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Iraq's Cabinet Approves Security Pact With US

The Iraqi government's council of ministers has voted to approve a three-year military pact with the United States, despite the bitter opposition of several hardline Shi'ite leaders. The agreement, which replaces a U.N. mandate that expires on December 31, must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, as Edward Yeranian reports from Cairo.

The Iraqi Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to approve a new military pact with the United States, after weeks of bitter debate and fiery opposition from several influential shi'ite leaders.

The new three-year pact will be put to a parliament vote on November 24, according to the legislative body's deputy speaker. The new pact, which calls for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq completely by the end of 2011, replaces the U.N. mandate that expires December 31.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Debbagh underscored the proviso in the text that all U.S. forces would withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, although he said it is up to the government, at that point, to reach a new agreement.

He says that a majority of ministers, present, voted to approve the agreement that centers around the ultimate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. He adds the December 2011 withdrawal date is not subject to change, but the Iraqi government, at that point, will come up with a new agreement with the United States.

Debbagh alluded to the up-until-now acrimonious debate within the government and among Iraq's ruling Shi'ite coalition over approving the pact, but insisted that bickering had been resolved and consensus reached.

He says the pact was discussed by all factions represented in the government during a meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and that everyone expressed his views and agreement was reached.

Only one of the 28 cabinet members present at Sunday's extraordinary session reportedly voted against the pact, although nine others did not attend.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Adam Ereli told the Associated Press the vote was an "important and positive step."

Iraq's top negotiator on the pact, National Security Advisor Muwafaq al-Rubaie, said earlier that he believed the agreement was a "very good document" and added that he expected parliament to ratify it.

Virulent opposition from anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr and from other Shi'ite leaders close to Iran had threatened to derail the new pact.

Sadr announced Friday that he was creating a new militia, which he dubbed the "Brigades of the Promised Day" to fight the United States, and demanded that the United States "quit Iraq without leaving behind any bases."

Iranian state television called the vote "a victory for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki," which "imposed its views on everyone." Iran has long said it opposes the new pact, claiming that it threatens its own security and stability.