Iraq cabinet to vote on 'US pact'.
Iraq's cabinet is set to vote on a security pact with Washington that would keep US forces in the country for another three years.
If adopted by the cabinet in a vote on Sunday, the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) would then require parliamentary approval.
The draft document has undergone a series of revisions and now sets 2011 as a fixed deadline for US forces to leave Iraq.
The rule of law over US troops and civilian contractors on Iraqi soil has been behind most of the wrangling over the draft of the deal.
Iraq reportedly wants to be able to prosecute them for any crimes committed on their bases. Previous drafts of the deal have only agreed that they can be held accountable under Iraqi law for any crimes committed outside their bases while off duty.
Baghdad has also sought to ensure that the US military does not use Iraqi territory as a base to launch attacks on neighbouring countries.
Many Iraqis have protested against the deal, with thousands of people turning up at a recent opposition rally organised by Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia leader.
The deal is not expected to affect the pledge by Barack Obama, the US president-elect, that he would withdraw US troops from Iraq.
Ahead of the vote, Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, dispatched Khalid al-Attiyah and Ali al-Adeeb, two senior Shia legislators to Najaf to secure the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shia cleric.
The Iranian-born al-Sistani commands enormous influence with Iraq's Shia majority.
The Associated Press quoted a senior official at al-Sistani's office as saying the cleric told the prime minister's emissaries that the draft document represented "the best available option" for Iraq, signaling that he would not object to it if the cabinet and parliament approve it.
Reactions and concerns
Al-Attiyah said al-Sistani had stressed the need for "national accord" over the agreement.
Al-Adeeb said: "His eminence, al-Sistani, is comforted by the thoroughness of Iraqi officials who shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding national interests."
Many Iraqi legislators are concerned about appearing to endorse the US occupation ahead of upcoming provincial elections next year.
Al-Sadr has threatened to support attacks on US forces if they stay in Iraq.
The UN mandate covering the presence of US forces in Iraq expires on December 31, and failure to pass the security agreement would leave Iraq with little choice but to seek a renewal of the mandate.
A series of bombings on Saturday pointed to the fragility of security gains in the past year and were likely to strengthen the argument of the pact's proponents, who include the interior and defense ministers, that the need for US forces endures.
Eleven people were killed and 36 others wounded in a car bombing in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, in Nineveh province, on Saturday. The explosion took place outside a car dealership.
The town lies halfway between the Syrian border and the city of Mosul, which the US military considers the last remaining urban bastion of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
A US statement said the car bomb was driven by a suicide bomber, but Iraqi police said the car was parked.
In Baghdad a car bomb exploded near the National Theatre, killing at least three people and wounding another 23, police said.
'Hard landing' Another 10 people were wounded, including seven civilians, in two more bomb attacks in Baghdad, police said.
One targeted a police patrol and another set alight a mostly empty oil tanker.
In another roadside bomb attack outside the town of Fallujah - once the epicentre of the Sunni rebellion - six policemen, including one officer - were wounded, Jumaa Hussein Hamadi, a police captain, said. Also on Saturday, a US military helicopter made a "hard landing" after hitting wires in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing two American soldiers, the military said.
It said the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter went down because of an accident and that there was no enemy fire in the area.
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