Deal on US troop departure close, Iraqi lawmaker says

Iraq and the United States are close to reaching a deal under which all US combat troops would leave Iraq by December 2010, an Iraqi lawmaker said Thursday.

Haider al-Ababdi, a Shiite parliamentarian from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said US troops would leave Iraq's cities and remain inside their bases by June 30, 2009. He said the two governments had been close to reaching a deal for about a week, the dpa reported.

He also told broadcaster CNN that other troops would leave by the end of the next year.

An Iraqi newspaper reported Monday that both governments have reached an initial agreement stating that US troops will withdraw from Iraq between 2010 and 2011.

The pro-government Iraqi Al-Sabah newspaper reported that ongoing negotiations between both parties were nearing an end.

The US and Iraq have been negotiating the security pact known as the Status of Forces Agreement since March. The long-term agreement would lay down the legal basis for a continued US military presence in Iraq after a UN mandate expires in December.

Several Iraqi politicians and lawmakers are against any agreement, saying it will violate the country's sovereignty.

The most vocal of critics is radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al- Sadr, who strongly opposes the US presence in Iraq. He called on Iraqis to unite and stand up against the accord by all means possible.

Al-Sadr has even issued a statement urging the Iraqi government not to sign a deal, saying he would support al-Maliki's government "publicly and politically" if it does not sign the accord.

Earlier on Thursday, the US military said 25 people were detained, including a key al-Qaeda commander during raid operations conducted in central and northern Iraq, the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency reported.

Meanwhile, a source in the Salahadin province police department told VOI that three civilians were killed and a woman was injured when Iraqi soldiers shot their car as it approached a check point north of Tikrit.

The source, who asked not to be named, said "the soldiers opened fire at the car when it came too close and did not stop where it was supposed to." He added that Iraqi soldiers could not see who was inside the car in the dark.

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