After a month in which violence and U.S. casualties in Iraq were at a post-invasion low, Iraq’s presidential council on Thursday approved a Status of Forces Agreement, which sets a three-year timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Iraq’s parliament approved the deal last week.
The agreement puts Iraq's new democracy on a strong footing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.
“Today is a remarkable achievement for both of our countries,” Perino said. “We've been working on these negotiations for just about a year, and so we're glad to see it reach a positive conclusion.”
The agreement comes after immense security gains in Iraq resulting from the troop surge that started in early 2007. Casualties reached the lowest point in the entire war in November, dropping by 83 percent since March 2003.
But the warning by the Defense Department that the progress in Iraq is fragile was clear Thursday, when hours after the agreement was approved an al Qaeda front group called Islamic State of Iraq carried out two terror attacks. In Mosul, two U.S. soldiers were killed when a suicide driver blew up his car at an Iraqi check point. In Fallujah, truck bombers killed 15 people and wounded more than 100.
The timeline agreement calls for U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009. By Dec. 31, 2011, all U.S. troops will be gone. Voters in the democratic Iraq will make the final decision on the proposal in an election to be held no later than July 2009.
“If there is a national referendum, Iraq is a sovereign country and they could decide to do lots of different things with it,” Perino said. “But I think that the fact that their representative leadership has signed this agreement today, that they recognize that they are going to continue to need our help for the next little while. But we have a path now to help our troops get home.”
President-elect Barack Obama said earlier this week that his campaign promise of 16 months was still the “right time-frame” for withdrawal, meaning the troops would be out of Iraq by the summer of 2010, a year-and-a-half ahead of the U.S.-Iraq agreement. Also, the Obama transition Web site maintained that promise as of Thursday.
Nonetheless, Obama indicated support for the agreement, calling it a “glide path” for ending the war.
Responding to a question about whether Obama would honor the Status of Forces Agreement, Perino said, “I haven't heard anything different, but of course I can't speak for them. I think that they've welcomed it, as well, but this has been sort of a rolling approval of the -- by the Iraqis, because of the process that they have been going through the presidency council, their parliament, their cabinet of minister."