Iraqi Foreign Minister: U.S. Agrees to Hear Security Pact Changes

DEVELOPING: Iraq's foreign minister says the United States has agreed to hear proposed changes to the draft security pact, but it is unclear if they will accept changes that may change the troop withdrawal timetable, Reuters reports.

"In my opinion and based on my follow-up for the negotiations, I do not think there will be structural amendments. Maybe it will touch the wording and descriptions, possibly, but the backbone of the pact is what has already been agreed on," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters.

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Iraqi security forces in northwest Baghdad appear to be holding their own after taking control of the region from American troops in September.

Violence is down 62 percent in the region, a top U.S. official in the area told reporters during a press briefing Wednesday, stressing the close ties between U.S. and Iraqi forces since the September handover.

"We have been fully committed to the Iraqi people," said Col. William Hickman, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team with the 101st Airborne Division. He noted that several safe neighborhoods now have joint facilities for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

When asked if the integration of U.S. and Iraqi forces meant the U.S. can cut back on its troop presence, Hickman demured. "I can't say," he told reporters. "We are sharing more information today than we ever have."

Hickman's briefing came just hours after a car bomb exploded Wednesday in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing four civilians as the local government acknowledged it has yet to persuade frightened Christians to return to the homes they fled, police said.

A police officer in Ninevah province said the bomb went off in a parked car in a predominantly Sunni area of this city, where violence has continued against Christians and other religious minorities despite months of U.S. and Iraqi military operations to chase out extremists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.