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Iraqi Cabinet Responds To Final U.S. Draft Of Troop Pact

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq's cabinet has responded to the final U.S. draft of a long-awaited security pact that would require U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's media adviser said.

Media adviser Yasin Majid declined to say what the Iraqi cabinet's response was, but said it had been passed on to the Presidency Council, a body made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents.

The action means a final decision could come soon on a pact that Baghdad and Washington are scrambling to enact in time to replace a UN Security Council mandate governing the U.S. presence in Iraq, which is due to expire at the end of the year.

A senior Shi'ite politician, whose bloc asked to delay the pact last month, suggested his followers were now more amenable to it after the election of Barack Obama -- who favors withdrawing troops -- to replace President George W. Bush.

Majid said the Presidency Council would pass the draft on to the speaker of parliament and his two deputy speakers. Parliament must then approve the draft for it to take effect.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, "We have not yet received an official response from the government of Iraq."

The United States sent al-Maliki the latest text last week in response to a last-minute Iraqi request for changes to an agreement that had been hammered out over months. U.S. officials have said the text is final and not open to further changes.

Requested Changes

The text calls for U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 and to move off the streets of towns and villages by the middle of next year. Iraqi officials have said the final U.S. version includes some but not all of 110 changes they requested.

The pact was blocked at the last minute last month by powerful Shi'ite parties in al-Maliki's ruling coalition who demanded amendments, such as removing language that allowed Iraq to request U.S. forces to stay longer than three years.

Many of the Shi'ite parties have historic ties to Iran, which strongly opposed the pact. But Shi'a may be warming to the latest U.S. draft.

"There is an understanding that we may go forward with the pact," Hadi al-Amiri, head of the powerful Badr Organization, a key part of al-Maliki's ruling Shi'ite coalition, told Reuters on November 10.

Al-Amiri said Obama's victory had helped convince his followers that the United States would fulfil the commitment to withdraw its troops according to the schedule in the pact.

Obama campaigned on a promise to withdraw combat troops within 16 months of taking office, while his opponent, John McCain, opposed setting a timetable.

"Obama's idea to withdraw from Iraq coincides with our point of view on scheduling the troops' withdrawal," he said. "Iraqi politicians would not have felt reassured that the Americans would withdraw within a specified time if McCain had won."
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