BAGHDAD, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Iraqi parliament began debate Monday on a proposed security agreement governing U.S. troops in the country, officials said.
Lawmakers received the status of forces agreement, or SOFA, after it was approved Sunday by Iraq's Cabinet, CNN reported. It calls for U.S.-led coalition forces to be withdrawn from the country by the end of 2011 and establishes a legal framework covering occupying forces to replace a U.N. mandate that expires Dec. 31.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker had a signing ceremony Monday in Baghdad, during which Zebari called it a historic day for Iraq and thanked negotiators on both sides who worked to produce the agreement, CNN said.
Officials said Iraq's 275-member parliament will conduct numerous hearings and debates this week before the SOFA is submitted for a final vote, which according its rules can take place no earlier than Nov. 24.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh told reporters Sunday that under the SOFA, all U.S. forces must withdraw completely from the country by Dec. 31, 2011, adding that the date is "set and fixed."