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Iraqi cabinet approves US pact amid lingering violence

Iraqi parliament to vote on US pact November 24
Iraq's parliament will vote on November 24 on a wide-ranging military pact extending the presence of US troops another three years, which was approved Sunday by the Iraqi cabinet, an official said. "We hope to take a vote on the agreement on November 24," parliament's deputy speaker Khalid al-Attiya told AFP. The Iraqi cabinet decided earlier Sunday to approve a draft of the agreement, which will replace a UN mandate that expires at the end of this year. The agreement would see US troops withdraw from all Iraqi cities and towns by the end of June 2009 and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011. Parliament's endorsement of the pact is crucial before it can be signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US President George W. Bush.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2008
Iraq's cabinet approved a military pact on Sunday that requires the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011, as a deadly suicide car bomb underscored the country's lingering insecurity.

The attack took place within hours of the cabinet decision at a police checkpoint in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, killing at least 15 people. It was the latest in a string of near-daily attacks targeting security forces.

Baghdad and Washington have been scrambling for months to reach an agreement that will govern the status of more than 150,000 US soldiers stationed in some 400 bases across the country after their UN mandate expires on December 31.

Speaking to reporters after the two-and-a-half hour meeting, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said all the most important political blocs had taken a "positive position" on the deal.

"They consider it the best (agreement) possible, because it will manage and end the military presence and guarantee the complete withdrawal of the troops."

The United States welcomed the approval of the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), with National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe describing it as "an important and positive step."

"While the process is not yet complete, 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," he added.

Iraq's parliament will vote on the pact on November 24, with the first reading set for Monday, deputy speaker Khalid al-Attiya told AFP.

The agreement would then be ratified by Iraq's presidential council before Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would sign it with US President George W. Bush.

It took nearly 11 months of tense and detailed negotiations before both Baghdad and Washington were comfortable with the SOFA pact on the future of US forces in Iraq.

The draft agreement includes 31 articles and calls for US troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.

Under the agreement, an executive and a technical committee will be established to investigate "violations" committed by US forces, Dabbagh said, without giving further details.

Iraq had demanded the right to prosecute alleged crimes committed by US troops and civilians while the United States agreed to lift their immunity only if they committed crimes off-duty and off their bases.

Dabbagh said Iraq had succeeded in securing the right to investigate all cargo being brought into and out of the country, another key demand it had made in the negotiations.

And the agreement will transfer the files of an estimated 16,400 detainees currently being held by US forces to Iraqi judges, who will decide their fate.

The pact has drawn fire from hardline nationalists, especially the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters have called for mass demonstrations to oppose any agreement with the US "occupier."

"We were surprised and shocked by this approval, which expresses devotion to the occupation by agreeing to the mandate the occupier wanted," Hazem al-Araji, a senior Sadrist leader, told AFP.

"This approval underestimates the blood of the martyrs, the opinion of the clerics, and the popular rejection of this agreement," he said, adding that the movement would hold a protest in Baghdad on Friday.

The volatility of the security situation was highlighted by a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad shortly before the cabinet meeting began that killed three people, including two members of a pro-government Sunni militia.

Many ordinary Iraqis welcomed the agreement but feared local security forces would not be able to protect them after the American troops leave.

"We and the Americans are cooperating and there are still many bombs and exploding cars. So how can we face this terrorism alone?" asked Mohammed al-Asadi, a policeman manning one of Baghdad's ubiquitous checkpoints.

Others felt things would improve once the Americans were gone.

"It was the occupation that encouraged the sectarianism in this country. It's the occupation that caused the destruction of the country," said Ali Hossam, a 29-year-old civil servant, as he passed through the checkpoint.

Despite Sunday's attacks, Iraq has seen dramatic improvements in security over the past year as US and Iraqi forces have allied with local tribal militias to flush out insurgents and militias.

The reduction in violence has also been partly attributed to an order by Sadr at the end of August 2007 to his thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia to observe a ceasefire.

But on Friday Sadr announced the creation of a new militia -- the Brigades of the Promised Day -- to fight the Americans.

related report
US welcomes Iraq's approval of pact on military pullout
The White House on Sunday welcomed the approval by Iraq's cabinet of a military pact that requires the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.

"We welcome the Iraqi Cabinet's approval of the agreement today. This is an important and positive step," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"While the process is not yet complete, 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," he added.

Iraq's cabinet approved the military deal as a deadly suicide car bomb underscored the country's lingering insecurity. The attack took place within hours of the cabinet decision at a police checkpoint in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, killing at least 15 people. It was the latest in a string of near-daily attacks targeting security forces.

Baghdad and Washington have been scrambling for months to reach an agreement that will govern the status of more than 150,000 US soldiers stationed in some 400 bases across the country after their UN mandate expires on December 31.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad after the two-and-a-half hour meeting, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said all the most important political blocs had taken a "positive position" on the deal.

"They consider it the best (agreement) possible, because it will manage and end the military presence and guarantee the complete withdrawal of the troops."

Johndroe in turn stressed that improving security conditions had made it all possible.

"The agreements covering security, economic, political as well as diplomatic relations would not be possible if security conditions were not vastly improved," he said.

"This progress has been made possible by the great work of American forces, the courage of the Iraqi people and the increasing capacity and strength of the Iraqi Security Forces. While there is still much work to be done, US forces continue to return home and there will be 14 Brigade Combat Teams at the end of this year, down from 20 at the height of the surge," Johndroe added.

Iraq's parliament will vote on the pact on November 24, with the first reading set for Monday, deputy speaker Khalid al-Attiya told AFP.

The agreement would then be ratified by Iraq's presidential council before Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would sign it with US President George W. Bush.

It took nearly 11 months of tense and detailed negotiations before both Baghdad and Washington were comfortable with the SOFA pact on the future of US forces in Iraq.

The draft agreement includes 31 articles and calls for US troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.

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Cost And Scope Of Iraq Contract Operations Escalates
Washington (UPI) Nov 14, 2008
It is always difficult to write about private security contractors in Iraq because of the paucity of hard data. But we can now say that there are far more of them than we thought and that we are paying more for their services than previously known.







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