NEW YORK (AFP) - The UN special representative in Iraq said Friday the situation in the embattled country is improving, but warned against overconfidence ahead of a series of elections in 2009. "Across Iraq, signs of normal daily life are increasingly visible," Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council. But "Iraq enters some critical months ahead," he said. "In spite of a reduction in levels of violence, the potential for a flare-up remains a possibility in connection with the January 2009 elections." Scheduled for January 31, Iraq's provincial elections are the first in a series of elections for the legislature throughout the year. De Mistura applauded the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq for pushing democratic processes in the country, saying that "electoral assistance has been the flagship of the activities of UNAMI. "The government of Iraq should be commended for the progress so far achieved," he said, adding that Baghdad "will now be called to deliver services, security guarantees, conditions for free and fair elections... and to resolve tensions among its various communities." De Mistura, a long-standing Swedish diplomat, reported on the Iraq situation to the Security Council as the Baghdad cabinet was set to decide on a pact on the future of US forces in Iraq. Iraqi leaders have been racing to secure separate agreements with both the United States and Britain to replace the UN mandate currently governing the presence of foreign troops in the country, which expires on December 31. For months, the US and Iraq have been wrangling over the text of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. Iraq is likely to approve the controversial military pact with a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops by 2011 and for British troops to leave by the end of next year, Iraq's national security adviser told AFP in Baghdad on Friday. Muwafaq al-Rubaie said the accord could be passed by Iraq's cabinet as early as this weekend. "I honestly believe we have reached now a very good text.... And this text will secure the complete, full, irrevocable sovereignty of Iraq," said Rubaie, who is also Baghdad's chief negotiator on the security pact. Meanwhile, thousands of Sunni and Shia Arabs took to the streets across Iraq Saturday to defend Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against criticism from leaders of the country's Kurdish minority. Demonstrations were held in the northern Sunni town of Tikrit " the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein and the mostly Shia southern cities of Karbala, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Samawah, and Hilla, AFP correspondents said. They came out to protest remarks made earlier this week by Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani, who accused Maliki of illegally allying with tribes in areas with large Kurdish populations to expand the power of the state.In his remarks Barzani had compared the tribal alliances " which Maliki refers to as "Support Councils" " to the so-called Jackass Brigades of Kurds who fought for Saddam against Kurdish rebels from the 1980s up until 2003. The dispute has exposed yet another potentially explosive fault line in a country still scarred by sectarian tensions that until a few months ago had transformed large parts of Iraq into grisly battlefields. In Tikrit hundreds of Sunni tribesmen demonstrated in support of the prime minister, waving signs saying, "We want a unified Iraq" and "Kirkuk and Mosul and Diyala are Iraqi," referring to the three most disputed areas. "The Iraqi tribes are with the national positions of Maliki in preserving the unity of Iraq, establishing the rule of law, and rewriting the constitution," said Farhan al-Aud, an MP and Maliki advisor from the province. "There are no disputed areas. This is one country," he added. Maliki has credited the mostly tribal councils with helping his forces route insurgents and militias, while the Kurds have viewed them as a power grab that could endanger their aspirations for a greater autonomous region. "Those who oppose the plan of Maliki, they want Iraq to remain weak and to continue the project of dividing it up," said Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a member of the Support Council in the Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital. In the oil-rich Kirkuk province " hotly disputed and fractured into Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen communities " thousands of Arabs gathered at a football stadium outside Hawijah. Sheikh Barhan Mazhar al-Asi, an Arab member of Kirkuk provincial council, said the demonstrators had gathered to assert that "Kirkuk is Iraqi." Iraqi Kurds, many of whom see Kirkuk's oil wealth as vital to the future viability of their region, have called for it to be placed inside their autonomous zone, a plan deeply opposed by the province's Arab community. "The Support Brigades are nothing more than a way of providing stability and security, to restore the balance among state institutions and guarantee the rights of all communities in Kirkuk," Asi said.