QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA | November 16, 2008 10:13 AM EST |
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Cabinet on Sunday approved a security pact with the United States that will allow American forces to stay in Iraq for three years after their U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
The decision followed months of difficult negotiations and, pending parliamentary approval, will remove a major point of contention between the two allies. Parliament’s deputy speaker, Khalid al-Attiyah, said he expected the 275-member legislature to begin debating the document this week and vote on it by Nov. 24.
The U.S. government agreed last week to an Iraqi request to amend the draft. The amendment removed what al-Attiyah said was ambiguous language that could allow U.S. forces not to adhere to a timeline for their withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012.
The Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties making up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government dominate parliament, so there is a good chance that the legislature will approve the security pact.
The final draft of the agreement is designed to meet Iraqi concerns over its sovereignty and its security needs as it continues to grapple with a diminished but persistent insurgency.
It provides for the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and gives Iraq the right to try U.S. soldiers and defense contractors in the case of serious crimes committed off-duty and off-base. It also prohibits the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq’s neighbors, like Syria and Iran.