The Iraqi Cabinet today approved a politically sensitive military pact with the United States over the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country. The United Nations mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops in Iraq is scheduled to expire at the end of the year; the new pact seeks to provide legal cover for U.S. forces here.
The three-year security agreement between Iraq and the United States will be debated Monday and come up for a vote in the Iraqi Parliament within 10 days. The pact would allow for a U.S. military presence in Iraq until 2011 and sets conditions on that presence.
The agreement calls for the withdrawal of American forces from towns and cities starting on June 30, 2009, and from the rest of the country by Dec. 31, 2011.
Baghdad officials repeated American assurances that the pact would be honored by the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Barack Obama. "The American side assures us that the newly elected president will comply with what both sides agreed upon," said Iraqi press spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
The agreement allows either side to revise participation given a year's notice, depending on the situation in the field and according to the readiness of the Iraqi security forces.
As the Cabinet worked on the agreement, an IED north of Baghdad killed three men identified as militants, and a remote-control car bomb exploded north of Baquba, killing 6 policemen and four others. The political violence underscored questions surrounding Iraq's ability to fill any power vacuum left by a U.S. withdrawal.
Last Friday the Shiite cleric and power broker Moqtada al Sadr had announced "The Promised Day Brigade" to fight the Americans. Sadr controls 30 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi Parliament and has called for demonstrations this coming Friday to protest today's agreement and the continued U.S. presence here. He is calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of foreign troops.
Within an hour of the announcement, pan-Arab Web sites were flooded with varied reactions.
"By the will of God, the security pact will be signed in the very near future and Iraq will begin a new phase of reconstruction and stability, and I bless the efforts of the government in having the best draft agreement," wrote a commenter using the name Mohammed al-Iraqi.
Another wrote: "This is the best news I have ever heard, and inshallah [God willing] we will see the day when no foreign soldier exists in Iraq. Yes for freedom and equality and yes for democracy and no for militias."
There were also some negative comments.
"Has the Iraqi government taken the permission from Iran to sign the agreement?" asked a commenter called "Haider," identified as an Iraqi Turkmen. "What about Muqtada al Sadr? Will he be p****d off or what. How would you convince him?"