BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s Presidency Council has approved a security pact with the United States that paves the way for a complete U.S. troop pullout by the end of 2011, a spokesman for the council said on Thursday.
The pact, which brings in sight an end to the U.S. military presence that has lasted since the 2003 invasion, passed through parliament last month after protracted negotiations. It is supposed to be put to a public referendum next year.
Iraq’s three-member Presidency Council, which includes President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents, must unanimously approve all legislation passed by parliament or it goes back to the house.
“The Presidency Council has endorsed the security pact with the United States. That means this pact is put into force,” Presidency Council chief of staff Naseer al-Ani told Reuters.
The council also gave the green light to a longer-term agreement defining cultural, economic and security ties between the two countries.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the agreement was a “remarkable achievement” for the United States and Iraq. “We have a path now to help our troops get home. And we are already bringing troops home. And we’re going to be able to continue to do that as long as we solidify the gains that we’ve made,” Perino said.
Iraq’s government has tried to quell criticism of the security pact, saying opponents should wait to judge how Washington honours commitments to withdraw.
It currently has 146,000 troops in Iraq, where sectarian bloodshed has diminished significantly in the past year.
Influential Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed reservations about the pact, which requires U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi towns by mid-2009 and leave the country by end-2011. It also curbs U.S. powers to detain Iraqis.
When parliamentarians approved it, they agreed it should be put to a national referendum by July.
A major concern of some lawmakers is a lack of guarantees that the United States will honour its pledges, but the government says the referendum will give the public time enough to decide whether it has or not.