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Iraqi lawmakers in final push before vote on US pact

File image courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
Iraqi lawmakers made a final push on Tuesday to assemble a commanding majority to approve a controversial military pact that would allow US troops to remain another three years.

The 275-member assembly is expected to vote Wednesday by a show of hands on the wide-ranging accord, which would require US troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

The measure enjoys the support of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Kurdish alliance, and a number of independent MPs -- enough for it to pass with slightly more than the requisite simple majority of 138 votes.

But deputy parliamentary speaker Khaled al-Attiya said the government and the UIA were making a last-minute push to assemble a broader coalition.

"We do not want to pass this agreement with a difference of two or three or four votes," Attiya told AFP in an interview in his Baghdad office. "For this reason there are continuing efforts to achieve a vast majority."

Key ministers in recent days have warned that the failure to approve the pact could endanger Iraq's security and its finances.

"This is a dangerous national matter and all the political entities in the country have to come together on it," Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a member of the Kurdish alliance, told reporters Tuesday.

The agreement -- the product of nearly a year of hard-nosed negotiations -- was approved by Iraq's cabinet over a week ago with support from the major blocs representing the country's Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities.

Iraq won a number of concessions in the deal, including a hard timeline for withdrawal, the right to search US cargo and the right to try US soldiers and civilians for offences committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.

But the pact has drawn fire from certain quarters, including followers of the hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who reject any agreement with the United States and who protested at the accord in Baghdad on Friday.

Attiya, who is close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said the government hoped to win over those who merely have "reservations" about the pact.

"(Some political blocs) have officially announced that they have reservations, but the reservations do not touch on the agreement. They are related to other things," Attiya said.

The National Concord Front -- the largest Sunni bloc in parliament with 39 seats -- said it would not approve the pact unless it is put to a national referendum and parliament agrees to pass a national reconciliation bill.

"If our two requests are accepted, we will vote for the agreement. But for the moment we are waiting," the bloc's spokesman Salim Abdullah told AFP.

He added that he did not believe the Shiites and the Kurds would approve the pact without Sunni support, even if they had a simple majority.

Attiya said the UIA and the government were willing to discuss such demands, but that a referendum was out of the question because there is no time to organise one before the UN mandate governing the troops expires on December 31.

"We told them (the referendum proposal) is not in our hands. The Americans will reject this proposal, definitely. So go to the Americans and discuss it," Attiya said with a chuckle.

But many fear that if the accord is not approved by a comfortable majority and with the support of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, it will lack legitimacy.

"If it is not approved by a large majority it will not be good. Its credibility will be weak," Kurdish MP Mahmud Othman told AFP.

"If the Kurds and the Shiites are the majority, and they vote for it and the others don't, this will be a defect."

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Gates to stay as Pentagon chief: reports
Washington (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has agreed to stay in his job when president-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, with an announcement expected next week, reports said late Tuesday.

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