Top Iraq official upbeat over US, British pull-out pacts
AFP - Saturday, November 15
BAGHDAD (AFP) - - Iraq is likely to approve a military pact with a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops by 2011 and British troops will leave by the end of next year, Iraq's national security adviser said Friday.
Muwafaq al-Rubaie told AFP in an interview that the controversial Iraq-US security pact could be passed by Iraq's cabinet as early as this weekend.
"I honestly believe we have reached now a very good text... And this text will secure the complete, full, irrevocable sovereignty of Iraq," said Rubaie, who is also Baghdad's chief negotiator on the security pact.
"I believe, I hope, that the council of ministers will pass the new text Sunday and (then) it will be passed on to the parliament."
Baghdad has been racing to secure separate agreements with both the United States and Britain to replace the UN mandate currently governing the presence of foreign troops in the country, which expires on December 31.
The US and Iraq have been wrangling over the document, the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a wide-ranging US military pact, for months.
The White House, too, was upbeat Friday, describing the text of the accord as a "good agreement" that suits both countries.
"We believe this is a good agreement that serves both Iraq and the United States well. We look forward to the Iraqis concluding the process," national security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Washington.
The draft agreement calls for US troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.
But Rubaie said Iraq was open to shortening the timetable to match US President-elect Barack Obama's campaign pledge to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.
"If Obama... decides to implement his plan for the 16-month withdrawal from Iraq we are ready for that," he said. "We would be cooperating with him, and we would understand, and we would work with him to fulfill his election promise."
Rubaie meanwhile said he expected all British troops would be gone by 2010.
"By the end of next year there will be no British troops in Iraq. By the end of 2009," Rubaie said, adding that negotiations between London and Baghdad on the pull-out had begun two weeks ago.
"It will be a much shorter agreement with the UK... It's much shorter and much simpler," Rubaie said, adding that there would be a "dramatic" reduction of British troops by the middle of 2009.
A British defence ministry spokesman in London said in response that Britain has "no timetable" for the withdrawal of its roughly 4,000 troops in Iraq, the vast majority of whom are based in the southern city of Basra.
"At the minute, we have no timetable," the spokesman told AFP. But he said that the military was on course to meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's proposed "fundamental change of mission" in 2009.
In July Brown indicated he wanted to cut the number of Britain's troops but ruled out a timetable for their withdrawal.
Iraq has seen dramatic improvements in security over the past year as US and Iraqi forces have allied with local tribal militias to flush insurgents and militias out of vast swathes of the country that were once ungovernable.
The reduction in violence has also been partly attributed to an order by radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr at the end of August 2007 to his thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia to observe a ceasefire.
Sadr on Friday however announced the activation of a new militia against the American "occupier," and urged Muslim countries to join in protests against the proposed security accord.
"I repeat my demand that the occupier leaves our beloved Iraq without any bases and without any accord," Sadr said in a statement read in the town of Kufa south of Baghdad by Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, his spokesman.
"As long as the (American forces) remain I will support the resistance, and especially the Brigades of the Promised Day," he added, referring to a militia he said he had activated to resist the "occupier."
The Shiite cleric, who is believed to be living in Iran, also appealed for a "universal demonstration" against the accord, with prayers and protests in all Muslim countries.
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British soldiers secure the road around Basra airport in 2007. Iraq is likely to approve a military pact with a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops by 2011 and British troops will leave by the end of next year, Iraq's national security adviser said Friday.
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