By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 17, 2008 - After weeks of struggle to reach an agreement, an important next step has been made for U.S. troops to continue operations in Iraq in 2009, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. The Iraqi cabinet has signed the draft U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement, allowing American troops to continue operating there and training Iraqi security forces after the United Nations Security Council mandate expires on Dec. 31.
The cabinet signing is an important step, but the draft agreement still must be approved by the Iraqi parliament, then ratified by Iraq's three-member presidential council, Whitman told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing.
"It's important to remember that it's just a step in the process," he said. "It's not complete yet, [and] we can continue to remain hopeful and confident that we'll have an agreement that can be implemented."
The current standing agreement allows U.S. forces to operate within the country only until Dec. 31. The Defense Department would not confirm the agreement's details for troop withdrawal. Actual details could be released as early as this week, Whitman said.
"We are at the point now that we have a signed document," he said. "It's my understanding that [U.S. officials] who are a little closer to the process might have details available within the next few days."