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November 24, 08

NEWS / Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Pact with United States Full U.S. troop withdrawal by 2011 envision

By David McKeeby
Staff Writer

Washington — Iraq’s Cabinet has approved a new U.S.-Iraqi security agreement calling for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011.

The agreement now goes to Iraq’s parliament for approval. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe welcomed the Iraqi Cabinet’s November 16 vote as another step forward for Iraq’s fledgling democracy. “We remain hopeful and confident we’ll soon have an agreement that serves both the people of Iraq and the United States well and sends a signal to the region and the world that both our governments are committed to a stable, secure and democratic Iraq.”

In addition to setting a withdrawal date, the agreement signed November 17 by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari would place new limits on U.S. forces operating in Iraq beginning January 1, 2009.

“The process affirmed the idea that these were two free, sovereign states that were dealing with one another and came to an agreement,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said November 17. “Two sovereign states that had to answer to their public. That was very clear from the Iraqi side; I think it’s obvious for our side as well.”

The U.S. side also agreed to an Iraqi request that would permit Iraqi authorities to prosecute serious crimes committed by off-duty American personnel outside their bases — a key sticking point for U.S. negotiators.

“If this does go forward, and you have the Iraqi parliament passing it, and it’s approved by the presidency council, you will have had an agreement signed between the United States and a democratic Iraq,” McCormack said. “That will change the Middle East forever, for the positive.”

Since 2003, U.S.-led coalition forces have operated in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council resolution that expires at the end of 2008. U.S. and Iraqi officials seek to replace the U.N. mandate and continue security cooperation through a status of forces agreement — a pact authorizing the presence of U.S. troops and outlining their activities in Iraq. The United States has concluded similar agreements with 78 other countries worldwide, including Germany, Japan, South Korea and several of Iraq’s Gulf neighbors. U.S. officials say that without the legal foundation offered by the accord, all coalition-led military operations would cease in Iraq.

American and Iraqi diplomats began negotiations in March, initially hoping to conclude the agreement by midsummer. Talks continued into the fall as negotiators on both sides redoubled efforts to craft a security arrangement that could be accepted by officials in Baghdad and Washington.

While violence has declined drastically in 2008, recent days have seen a spate of bombings in Baghdad, Baqubah and Hillah. These bombings have targeted Iraqi police officers, neighborhood guards in an Iraqi Sunni community and local residents, underlining what U.S. officials have called Iraq’s “fragile, but reversible” security gains and the continued need for security assistance as Iraq continues to build democratic governing institutions.

“In terms of U.S. and coalition military presence, clearly there is going to be a need for that beyond the end of the year,” Ambassador Crocker told reporters in a June 5 briefing on the negotiations. “The more Iraqis are able to do in terms of their own security, the less requirement there is for outside support. That’s what Iraqis want, and that’s what we want.”

In late October, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reopen talks on the agreement, which has been under close scrutiny by Baghdad lawmakers. (See “Bush Expresses Confidence on U.S.-Iraq Troops Pact.”)

Media reports indicate Iraqi officials sought more than 100 changes to the agreement.

“Some [changes] were substantive, some were linguistic, some were stylistic. We looked at it all,” Crocker told The New York Times. “We were as forthcoming as we could possibly be in responding.”

The pact was approved by 27 of 28 cabinet ministers present at the meeting, following an indirect endorsement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Shiite cleric. While Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish communities largely support the agreement, opposition exists among Iraq’s Sunnis, making the upcoming parliament vote a test of the “true national consensus” Iraqi leaders hope to build around the security agreement.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the negotiations have continued between the United States and Iraq on the transitioning relationship “with a goal of a strong and strategic relationship with Iraq, which respects both countries’ sovereignty and serves both countries’ interests.”

Khalilzad reported to the U.N. Security Council that since June 2007, when an increase in troops began to bolster security across the country, civilian deaths due to violence have decreased by 80 percent. The number of overall attacks by insurgents has decreased by 86 percent.

And Iraqi security force deaths have fallen by 84 percent, Khalilzad said. In the same period, U.S. military deaths in Iraq have declined by 87 percent, coalition military deaths in Iraq have fallen 88 percent and sectarian-related deaths have decreased by 95 percent, he said.



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