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SHIITE BLOC SPURNS U.S. SECURITY PACT

Alliance members say they need time to fine-tune the agreement.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling Shiite coalition withheld support Sunday for the proposed security pact that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for three more years, dealing a setback to American hopes of a speedy approval.

The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance called for unspecified changes to the draft agreement, which parliament must ratify by the end of the year when the U.N. mandate expires.

The group's move comes a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators, mostly Shiites, took to the streets of Baghdad to show their opposition to the agreement.

The Shiite alliance holds 85 of parliament's 275 seats and Maliki needs solid support from the alliance to win approval of the agreement by a strong majority.

The 30 lawmakers loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr say they will vote against the agreement, and some Sunni lawmakers have spoken out against it, too.

The alliance statement said that the agreement, hammered out in months of difficult negotiations, contained some "positive points" but that more time was needed "for discussion, dialogue and to amend some of its articles."

The alliance has established a committee to solicit views and study the agreement in detail.

The agreement provides for American troops to leave Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June and to withdraw from the country entirely by the end of 2011 unless the government asks them to stay.

It would also give Iraq limited authority to prosecute U.S. soldiers and contractors for crimes committed off post and off duty, limit U.S. authority to search homes and detain people and give Iraqis more say in the conduct of American military operations.

Maliki aide Sami al-Askari said several alliance members want to remove language allowing the government to ask any Americans to stay beyond the end of 2011.

Some complained the draft's language was vague, especially in governing U.S. military operations and legal jurisdiction over American troops and contractors.

The review process could well mean that parliament will not vote on the agreement until after the Nov. 4 U.S. election.

Many Iraqi lawmakers say privately they still need U.S. troops because the Iraqi military and police are incapable of handling security nationwide despite the sharp drop in violence since last year.

The U.S.-Iraq pact is expected to serve as a model for a separate agreement on the future of other countries in the coalition.

Ratchet the Iraqi puppy finally had his day.

An animal rescue group flew into Baghdad on Sunday and picked up the dog, which was adopted by Army Spc. Gwen Beberg, 28, of Minneapolis in a case that highlighted military rules barring troops from caring for pets while in Iraq.

Ratchet was loaded onto a charter flight, which took off Sunday night for Kuwait. He's due in Minnesota later this week.

It was the third try by Operation Baghdad Pups to get Ratchet out of the country on behalf of Beberg, who says she couldn't have made it through her 13-month deployment without him.

She and another soldier rescued the puppy from a burning pile of trash in May.

Beberg's quest to get the dog has gained international attention. More than 65,000 people from Illinois to Italy have signed an online petition urging the Army to let the puppy go to the United States.

The U.S. military has said the dog was free to leave but American troops could not be responsible for its transportation.

Beberg has been transferred to another military base to prepare for her departure from Iraq next month.

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