Iraqi cabinet agrees to keep US troops

Iraq’s cabinet approved a treaty on Sunday that will allow a continued American military presence in Iraq for up to three more years.

Parliament’s deputy speaker, Khalid al-Attiyah, said he expected the 275-member legislature to begin debating the document this week and vote on it by Nov. 24.

All but one of the 28 cabinet ministers who attended the two-and-a-half-hour session voted for the agreement and sent it to Parliament for consideration, a huge relief to the United States, which had been in intense negotiations with the Iraqis for nearly a year.

Iraq’s lead negotiator, Muwafaq al-Rubaie, said on Friday he believed the draft agreement was a “very good text” and expected it to be approved by parliament as well.

“This text will secure the complete, full, irrevocable sovereignty of Iraq,” he said.

In Washington, the White House responded positively to the Iraqi cabinet vote on the military agreement, which is one of the departing Bush administration’s biggest foreign-policy priorities.

“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,” Gordon Johndroe, the White House spokesman, said.

On the other hand, followers of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr protested Sunday’s vote.

“This agreement hands Iraq over (to the United States) on a golden platter and for an indefinite period,” said Ahmed al-Massoudi, spokesman for the 30-seat Sadrist bloc in parliament.

Al-Sadr, whose militiamen fought U.S. forces in three rebellions since 2003, has threatened to continue attacks on U.S. forces if they don’t immediately begin to withdraw from Iraq.