Baghdad signed on Tuesday military accords with Britain and Australia that give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate on December 31, the Iraqi government said.
"With the authority of the government of Iraq given to the defence minister, an agreement was signed with Britain today which will be implemented from the start of the new year until June 30," defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.
"A little while ago an agreement was also signed regarding the withdrawal of the Australian forces in Iraq. It was signed between the Iraqi defence minister and the Australian ambassador," Askari said.
The long-awaited agreements come just a day ahead of the expiry of the UN mandate, effectively legalising the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country at the eleventh hour and moving Iraq closer to full sovereignty.
Under the agreement, Britain, which has about 4,100 troops based at Basra airport in southern Iraq, will play only a supportive role in their area.
"British troops will only support, consolidate and develop the Iraqi security forces without having any combat mission. July 31 will be the last day for the withdrawal of the British forces from Iraq," Askari said.
Iraqi defence minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassem Obeidi signed the separate accords with British ambassador Christopher Prentice and Australian ambassador Robert Tyson.
During a visit to Iraq on December 17, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki announced the end of the mission of the British contingent by the end of May 2009, and a total withdrawal by end July 2009.
After British troops leave next year, relations between London and Baghdad will in theory revert to those between any other country.
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