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Iraqi council gives final approval to U.S. pact

Iraq's three-member presidential council on Thursday approved a security pact with the United States setting out a three-year timeframe for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops, a spokesman said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraq's three-member presidential council on Thursday approved a security pact with the United States setting out a three-year timeframe for the full withdrawal of American troops, a spokesman said.

The final legal hurdle to the deal was cleared even as Iraqis faced another round of bombings in a deadly week as insurgents try to chip away at recent security gains.

Two suicide bombers in explosives-laden trucks took aim at police stations in the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100, Iraqi officials said.

Near a checkpoint in Mosul, two American soldiers were killed and nine civilians wounded by a suicide attack, Lt. Col. Dave Doherty said.

U.S. hails 'remarkable achievement'
The presidential council's decision marked the final step for the agreement, which will replace a U.N. mandate that expires on Dec. 31.

White House press secretary Dana Perino welcomed the Iraqi presidential council's approval. She called the agreement a "remarkable achievement for both of our countries."

Perino called the pact a landmark agreement that will guide the U.S. relationship with Iraq and help solidify Iraq's democratic gains.

The U.S. Embassy and the military "will begin immediately to implement these two agreements with our Iraqi partners," Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said in a statement.

They also promised to support Iraq's request to the U.N. Security Council to continue protection of Iraqi assets.

"And we look forward, under these agreements, to the continued reduction in U.S. forces and the normalization of bilateral relations as two sovereign and co-equal nations," the statement said.

Iraq's parliament signed off on the deal last week after months of tough talks between U.S. and Iraqi negotiators that at times seemed on the point of collapse. The entire process has been fraught with hardscrabble dealmaking between ethnic and sectarian groups.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his two deputies Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, signed the accord at their headquarters in Baghdad, council spokesman Nasser al-Ani told The Associated Press.

The agreement provides a legal basis for American troops in Iraq after the expiration of the U.N. mandate, but it includes the caveat that it should go before voters in a referendum to be held by the end of July, when the deal will already be in effect.

That was a concession to Sunni demands and means the deal could be rejected next year if, for example, anti-U.S. anger builds and demands for an immediate withdrawal grow. By that time, however, U.S. troops will likely have left urban areas and will be a less intrusive presence.

Under the deal, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012.

Iraq also will gain strict oversight over the nearly 150,000 American troops now on the ground, representing a step toward full sovereignty for Iraq and a shift from the sense of frustration and humiliation that many Iraqis feel at the presence of American troops on their soil for so many years.

Followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr opposed the measure, demanding an immediate withdrawal, and the Shiite leader has called for peaceful protests against the continued presence of American forces in Iraq.

In Fallujah, the apparently coordinated blasts struck within minutes of each other outside the concrete barriers surrounding two police stations in different sections of the city.

A senior Iraqi police officer in Fallujah says a police station in the northern part of the city was leveled and several nearby houses were heavily damaged. A police station in central Fallujah was also struck, he said.

Police and hospital officials gave the casualty toll to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military said two bombs exploded in Fallujah shortly before noon on Thursday, but it had no immediate information about casualties or other details.

Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, is in Anbar province and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war before local Sunni tribal leaders joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The city, which is largely sealed off by checkpoints, has been relatively peaceful in recent months but attacks have continued.

Local authorities announced a curfew and closed all exits and entrances to the city after the blasts.

Fragile gains
Thursday's bombings came three months after the U.S. handed control of the province to the Iraqi government. Political tensions also have been high in Anbar as rival Sunni groups jockey for power before Jan. 31 provincial elections.

Northeast of Baghdad, a bomb left on a parked motorcycle exploded near a restaurant in Baqouba, killing three people and wounding 10, according to police at the security headquarters for the surrounding Diyala province.

The U.S. military has warned that the security gains of the past year remain fragile and it continues to target Sunni and Shiite extremists.

Four suspected insurgents were killed and 32 detained in operations Wednesday and Thursday targeting al-Qaida in Iraq in the northern city of Kirkuk and other areas.

In a separate development, an unmanned U.S. surveillance plane crashed on the runway at the Balad Air Base, 50 miles north of Baghdad, according to a statement by the U.S. Air Force.

It said the MQ-1 Predator assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing crashed about 7:30 a.m. Thursday, but the extent of the damage was unknown.

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