The United States was cautiously optimistic that an agreement establishing the legal basis for US troops in Iraq will be approved by the parliament in Baghdad, with the White House saying challenges remain in finalizing the deal, dpa reported.
"We're nearly there, but there are a couple more hurdles that we have to get through," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday, a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet approved the agreement.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on Monday, but it must now get approval in Iraq's fractious parliament before it can be enacted.
"We have yet another seven days, a process that they need to go through before we could say that we are final," Perino said.
SOFA outlines the legal basis for 150,000 US troops in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires December 31. It calls for a withdrawal of all US combat forces by 2011, but allows Baghdad to request an extension of the US presence.
The cabinet approval came after months of complex and contentious negotiations. US troops would have to abandon outposts in Iraqi cities in 2009. The timeframe for withdrawing US forces by 2011 mirrors president-elect Barack Obama's pledge to pull US combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office in January.
Iraq's parliament began taking up the accord on Monday and it could face a rigorous debate among lawmakers, some of whom advocate putting it to a national referendum, which could delay the process.
If an agreement is not in place by the end of the year, the US military would have to end operations in the country, or Washington and Baghdad would have to get a UN Security Council mandate. Both sides want to avoid another UN resolution.
"I'm not aware of any plan B or anybody putting pen to paper about plan B. So the hope is that this will move forward," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"This is an important step that happened today. But I have to emphasize there's still steps that need to be taken on the Iraqi side."