Discontent over Maliki threatens US-Iraqi security pact
Wednesday's vote on a security pact to allow US troops to remain in Iraq for three more years is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Maliki's performance.
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Iraq's cabinet approved the deal last week. Now it's up to the parliament that has been debating the measure since.Skip to next paragraph
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Accurately gauging the level of support has been difficult since some lawmakers privately support the agreement while publicly opposing it.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says the government has been working hard to rally votes.
"I am hopeful that most of the key parliamentary blocs have expressed their support – some of them publicly, some of them privately. So from now until Wednesday, I think there will be more and more lobbying, let's say, to get a simple majority," he told the Monitor. "There is opposition, definitely. Even if it is ratified, it might be a close call."
US officials said they were not ruling out the possibility of there not being enough votes to pass the agreement at all. "Pretty much they don't have a cushion," says one US official who asked to remain anonymous.
At Saddam Hussein's former palace, Iraqi parliamentarians and officials have streamed in for consultations with US State Department officials trying to provide assurances and in some cases broker political deals.
Political parties and factions are holding their own closed-door meetings, many aimed at seeing what they can pry out of the government in exchange for their support, Iraqi politicians say. If parliament does not vote Wednesday, many of its members plan to leave on religious pilgrimage to Mecca, making a further vote unlikely.
"Some people are raising concerns about the day after," says Mr. Zebari in an interview, referring to what he described as unwarranted fears by some factions that the agreement would give the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government more power.
At an entrance to the Green Zone, where the palace and the US Embassy are located, a female suicide bomber who may have been mentally disabled blew herself up at a checkpoint – one of three attacks Monday that killed an estimated 20 Iraqis. Officials have warned of more violence if the agreement is rejected and US troops leave immediately.
Zebari says he has been working with the UN toward resolving a key concern that has arisen in the agreement – the potential liability of a trillion dollars' worth of claims against Iraq arising from actions of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Under the UN agreement, Iraq's oil revenues are protected from those claims. The US-Iraqi security agreement has no such protection. Zebari says he is asking the UN to extend protection while Iraq figures out how to settle some of those claims.
US officials say the agreement is particularly complicated because most status of forces agreements are negotiated after combat and approved in secret.
"Passions run high on issues of national sovereignty," says Adam Ereli, a US Embassy spokesman. "I think this is historic – people are having a public debate on issues of national importance."