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Iraqi parliament likely to approve US pact

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 20, 2008
Iraq's parliament appeared likely to approve a comprehensive US military pact that would see all troops leave by the end of 2011 despite a loud and contentious debate of the measure on Thursday.

Lawmakers succeeded in holding a second reading of the agreement after hardline Shiite nationalists had shouted it down Wednesday but the raucous session was punctuated by yelling, interruptions, and desk-pounding.

Followers of the hardline anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are fiercely opposed to any agreement with the US "occupier" and his loyalists in parliament have struggled to derail the deal by stalling the discussion of it.

But the measure appeared to have won the support of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the largest bloc in the 275-member assembly with 85 seats, and the two Kurdish blocs which hold 58 seats.

The measure requires a simple majority of 138 votes for approval.

UIA vice president Ali al-Adeeb told lawmakers that "all the fears our brothers in parliament are talking about, the Iraqi negotiators have taken them into account. They were not absent. The negotiators have done very well."

But parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani, speaking on behalf of the Sunni Concord Front and a Sunni independent bloc, which together hold 47 total seats, said his group would make "requests" regarding the text.

"We have some reservations about this text and we have decided to send a message to the government with our requests, especially for the freeing of prisoners and a better balance in the government," he said.

Members of parliament, however, do not always vote with their respective blocs so the remarks of party leaders do not guarantee support or rejection.

The agreement would require US troops to pull out of Iraqi cities and towns by 2009 and withdraw from the entire country by 2011. In the meantime it would replace the troops' UN mandate, which expires at the end of the year.

Iraq's cabinet approved the agreement on Sunday with the support of all the major political blocs representing the country's Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, and parliament is expected to vote on the measure on November 24.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki again called on lawmakers to approve the deal, saying it is the best option available and that it would "guarantee Iraqi sovereignty and the removal of every foreign soldier."

"The agreement will give us the opportunity to build our country, to carry out internal reforms, to build our security forces and a politics that is far from sectarian challenges," Maliki said at a Baghdad press conference.

He went on to warn that if parliament kills the deal Iraq might have to return to the UN Security Council to try to extend the present mandate, which he described as a "painful situation."

The Sadrists have called for mass demonstrations against the military pact, including a large protest to be held in Baghdad on Friday, but with only 30 seats in parliament they alone cannot kill the agreement.

Ahead of the session Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq's highest Shiite religious authority, lashed out at lawmakers who went on a pilgrimage instead of staying to vote on the pact.

"Sistani is very angry at the parliamentarians who went on the hajj and ignored the call of the Guide to assume their national and historical responsibility to give their opinion frankly about the agreement," an official from Sistani's office told AFP.

The reclusive Sistani -- who usually communicates through close advisors and other associates -- has said he opposes any agreement that infringes on Iraq's "sovereignty" but that the elected government should make the final decision.

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US confident of Iraq troops accord
Washington (AFP) Nov 19, 2008
The Bush administration turned to Congress Wednesday to mount a defense of a landmark agreement with Iraq that calls for the withdrawal of all US forces by the end of 2011.

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