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Iraq backs America’s exit plan

Legislators OK an agreement that requires all U.S. forces to be out of the nation by the end of 2011.

BAGHDAD — The long, costly story of American military involvement in Iraq moved closer to an end Thursday when Iraq’s parliament approved a pact that requires all troops to be out in three years, marking the first clear timetable for a U.S. exit since the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

The vote for the security deal followed months of tough talks between U.S. and Iraqi negotiators that at times seemed on the point of collapse, and then days of hardscrabble dealmaking between ethnic and sectarian groups whose centuries-old rifts had hardened during the first four years of the war.

The war has claimed more than 4,200 American lives and killed a far greater, untold number of Iraqis, consumed huge reserves of money and eroded the global stature of the United States, even among its closest allies.

Now an end is in sight, and American troops could leave sooner if President-elect Barack Obama makes good on a plan to pull out combat troops within 16 months of moving into the White House in January.

Some troops are likely to redeploy to face an insurgency that has expanded in Afghanistan even as attacks have diminished in Iraq, where the U.S. believes Iraqi forces are better able to fend for themselves. The terms of the security pact reflect that confidence: U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi towns and cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012.

“This is a historic day for the great Iraqi people,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a 10-minute address on national television. “We have achieved one of its most important achievements in approving the agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq and restoring the sovereignty it lost two decades ago.”

Al-Maliki was referring to Iraq’s transformation into an international pariah following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to U.N. sanctions and other penalties. The security deal must now be ratified by the three-member Presidential Council, which is expected to approve it.

In the dealmaking that preceded the vote, Iraq’s ruling Shiite bloc agreed to a Sunni demand that the pact be put to a referendum by July 30, meaning the deal could be rejected next year if, for example, anti-U.S. anger builds and demands for an immediate withdrawal grow.

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