Iraqi cabinet votes to keep US troops
A new pact that faces final approval from parliament will keep US troops in Iraq for up to three more years. By June 2009 US forces will pull back to major bases.
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"Obama's election influenced the government to sign this agreement, because he promised the American people to withdraw the troops," says Mr. Ahmed. "I agree with this [pact]. If the Iraqi government didn't accept this pact, America would cause big troubles."Skip to next paragraph
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"The agreement is good," says Hibba Rahim, a government employee shopping in Baghdad with her father.
"The agreement will bring more security after the Americans make Iraqi forces stronger.... I think the Americans and Iraqis will destroy terrorism and two and a half years is enough time, because the Iraqi government is more than halfway to stability," she says.
A fierce critic of the deal, the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, called for protest demonstrations next Friday.
"We were surprised and shocked by this approval, which expresses devotion to the occupation by agreeing to the mandate the occupier wanted," said Hazem al-Araji, a senior Sadrist leader quoted by Agence France-Presse. "This approval underestimates the blood of the martyrs, the opinion of the clerics, and the popular rejection of this agreement."
"I don't agree with this decision," says Ahmed Nouri, owner of a mobile-phone shop, adding that he believes the recent jump in violence is linked to progress on the security talks.
The cabinet decision came amid a surge of car bombs and other attacks in recent weeks, marring dramatic security gains throughout 2008 that are thanks in large part to US-paid Sunni militias that took a stand against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a cease-fire, the dismantling of Mr. Sadr's anti-US Mahdi Army, and a surge of US troops. Shortly after the vote on Sunday, a suicide car bomb in Diyala Province killed 15, and there were sporadic attacks in Baghdad that left an unknown number of people dead.
"The explosions are caused by the Americans," says Mr. Nouri. "When Maliki didn't accept this agreement, the explosions returned to Baghdad. When Maliki agrees, the explosions will end. Either way, we will not get any benefit."
And many problems remain. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq is not yet defeated, but its continued existence may depend on the efforts by AQI to recruit disgruntled Sunni members of the government-funded community policing forces.
The agreement also allows Iraq to try US soldiers and contractors for crimes under certain circumstances, most notably when they are off-base or off-duty. It also binds the US not to use Iraq as a base from which to attack another country, such as Iran or Syria.
Iraq will take responsibility for 16,400 detainees, who will then be tried in the Iraqi justice system.
• Awadh al-Taiee contributed to this report from Baghdad.