Mon Aug 17, 2009 7:33am EDT
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's cabinet has approved a bill paving the way for a referendum on a bilateral security pact signed last year between Washington and Baghdad, the government spokesman said in a statement on Monday.
The referendum is the next major milestone in the gradual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, due to be completed by 2012.
If Iraqis reject the agreement in the popular vote, the roughly 130,000 U.S. soldiers still in Iraq more than six years after the 2003 invasion will be given just a year to leave.
"The cabinet has approved a draft law to hold a general referendum on the security pact between the republic of Iraq and the United States of America," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
The bill must now be ratified by parliament, which is due to convene after summer recess in September.
The referendum was a conciliatory gesture to Iraqi lawmakers suspicious of U.S. motives at the time of signing the pact, and the vote allows Iraqis to judge U.S. adherence to the deal after it came into effect in January.
U.S. combat troops have since then withdrawn from Iraqi urban centers, and Iraqi security forces have taken the lead in planning and organizing operations.
The referendum was supposed to be held in July this year, but is now due to be held at the same time as parliamentary polls, currently scheduled for January 16.