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Iraq Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact

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Iraq Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact


Iraq Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact

Iraq Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact

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The Iraqi parliament passes a security pact that allows American troops to stay in the region for an additional three years. The accord was endorsed after the ruling coalition reached an understanding on a separate measure with opposition lawmakers. NPR's Ivan Watson gives Steve Inskeep an update from Baghdad.


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. India is not the only place where we have significant news on this Thanksgiving morning. Iraq's parliament has approved the new security pact with the United States. This so-called status of forces agreement gives U.S. troops a mandate to remain in Iraq for the next three years. This accord was endorsed after the ruling coalition reached an understanding on a separate measure with opposition lawmakers. And we're going to get some explanation from NPR's Ivan Watson who's in Baghdad.

Ivan, what's been happening?

IVAN WATSON: Well, Steve, just even eight hours ago, it looked like this law - this vote would not take place. I had Iraqi lawmakers and American Embassy officials telling me that talks had broken down overnight, negotiations, and they were worried that they would spend Christmas, basically, still trying to hammer out some sort of a compromise between all the rival political parties here.

But apparently, at some point in the morning, the leaders of the many political blocs representing the Iraqi Shiite prime minister, the Sunni Arab political parties, and Kurds, were able to come to an agreement on this reform proposal. It's been described as a nonbinding resolution which addresses worries and fears of opposition parties about what would be the balance of power in Iraq after the U.S. military withdraws. And with agreement on that nonbinding resolution, a vote was allowed to go forward this afternoon.

INSKEEP: Now, you just talked about the balance of power after the U.S. forces leave. I've gotten the understanding from things that I've read that that was the real issue here. Is that correct? That it wasn't really about whether U.S. forces should leave tomorrow, or three years from now. It's who's going to be in control later.

WATSON: Absolutely. And that was the fear of these many different political parties. There's a lot of criticism, particularly from Sunni Arabs, that the Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is simply too powerful, and that the withdrawal of American forces would leave him with too much control. They're really afraid of being persecuted. And so, that is what was holding this up. And Maliki's advisers say that this was, basically, arm twisting - that he couldn't get this treaty through without first agreeing to some of these compromises.

The agreement itself, Steve, calls for the U.S. military to pull back from Iraqi cities and towns by the end of June of next year and to complete - a complete withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. It also puts American soldiers under the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts if they commit crimes, though there are some joint procedures that can be carried out with American officials as well. And it definitely changes the status of the U.S. forces here because it requires the American military to get, first, permission from the Iraqi government to carry out any operation in this country.

INSKEEP: You said withdrawing from cities and towns by June of 2009, eight or nine months from now. How does that match up with the timetable promised by President-elect Barack Obama when he was campaigning? He talked about most forces out of the country within sixteen months.

WATSON: Well, critics of this agreement here in Iraq, particularly Muqtada Al-Sadr's faction, they don't view this as a withdrawal treaty. They view this as extending the U.S. military presence here for another three years. So the scene in parliament was very raucous today where you had Shiite lawmakers, about 30 of them, while the vote was going on, while the majority of the Iraqi lawmakers were raising their hands in favor of this agreement, they were pounding their desks and holding up signs saying, no, no agreement. So they want the immediate withdrawal of forces, not 16 months like President-elect Obama said, not three years like this agreement says.

INSKEEP: OK. So Americans are asking, when do the troops come home? Iraqis are asking, how long are you going to stay? Different versions of the same question. NPR's Ivan Watson is in Baghdad. Ivan, thanks as always.

WATSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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Iraqi Parliament OKs U.S. Security Agreement

Iraqi Parliament OKs U.S. Security Agreement

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Iraq's parliament on Thursday ratified a new security agreement that calls for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq over the next three years.

The sweeping vote was almost postponed because of disputes between Iraq's many rival political factions. Lawmakers had engaged in fierce debates over the treaty, and some opponents last week ended up wrestling with security guards at the front of the assembly hall.

Thursday's parliamentary session had barely begun when lawmakers loyal to rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged a raucous protest demanding the immediate pull-out of American troops from Iraq.

The Sadr loyalists pounded their desks and chanted, 'No to the agreement!" But lawmakers went ahead and voted on the treaty with a show of hands.

In the end, 144 of the 198 lawmakers present approved it.

The security accord was drawn up after nine months of hard bargaining between Iraqi and U.S. negotiators. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2009, at which point the agreement stipulates that American forces must get Iraqi government permission before carrying out military operations in Iraq. U.S. troops will be required to pull back from all Iraqi cities and towns by June 2009, and withdraw completely from the country by the end of 2011.

The deal also strips foreign security companies such as Blackwater USA of their special status, making them subject to Iraqi laws and courts.

Additionally, U.S. troops could fall under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi judicial system if they commit crimes while off-duty and outside of U.S. bases.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki applauded the agreement during a televised speech to the nation Thursday evening.

"You sons of proud Iraq, today is the day of sovereignty. Together we will move toward a free, proud, independent and prosperous Iraq," al-Maliki said.

Although the treaty passed easily, the vote nearly didn't take place.

As Sadr was demanding that American forces leave the country immediately, Sunni Arab politicians worried about how an agreement would impact the balance of power in Iraq.

Sunni lawmaker Ala Mekki said the withdrawal of U.S. troops would leave too much power in the hands of Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, who he claimed already had disproportionate control over the Iraqi security forces.

"There's a big problem in the army," Mekki said by phone. "It's mostly from one side, and there's marginalization of some Iraqi people, groups. So in this case, the army will not be Iraqi army, it will be al-Maliki's army."

So the Sunnis and other politicians who opposed the treaty linked its ratification to a package of measures intended to curb some of Maliki's power.

The move infuriated Maliki adviser Haider al-Abadi: "Why they left it to parliament at the last moment? Is it to twist the arm of the prime minister?"

In fact, negotiations collapsed Wednesday night and some observers feared the Iraqi-U.S. security pact was dead. Then, Thursday afternoon, rival factions suddenly announced that they had agreed on a vague, non-binding resolution that calls for more power sharing in government.

Lawmakers approved the resolution moments before they voted to ratify the treaty.

One senior U.S. Embassy official later called it a nail-biter, adding that somehow the Iraqis pulled themselves back from the brink.