Iraqi lawmakers give US security pact the nod
The pact sets out a three-year timetable for US troop withdrawal. A public referendum on it will be held in July.
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"I'm not happy about all the practices of all our parliament or discipline or commitment or see the value of what they are doing, but on this issue I think it shows to other countries that there is real freedom in Iraq, of speech, of expression … people feeling that they have a role in deciding the future of this country, " says Zebari.Skip to next paragraph
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The agreement was ratified by Prime Minister Malaki's cabinet earlier this month, but needed the approval of a simple majority of the 275-member cabinet. It was held up by a last-minute demand by Sunni parties, backed by Kurdish and some Shiite lawmakers, for a series of political reforms.
"This is one of the most important votes we've ever taken on Iraq's future," says Ali Maki, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the major Sunni bloc that pressed for concessions from the Shiite-led government in exchange for its support.
The bill passed – on the eve of the departure of dozens of lawmakers for the Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca – after it was tied to a political reform package and the call for a public referendum.
While the agreement sets clear limits on the US ability to carry out operations without consulting Iraqi authorities, exactly how that will work will be determined by a series of committees which will begin work on January 1.
In practical terms, the agreement will initially cover ongoing counterinsurgency operations and transition to peacetime operations, such as joint maneuvers. It also governs areas as detailed as the right to enter the country without visas, imports and exports of equipment, use of the radio spectrum, and overflight rights.
The wider strategic framework agreement is meant to map out the wider bilateral relationship with the US, including economic and political accords.
"What does the United States want? It wants a stable country that is open to investment and is open to ideas and is developing in a way that helps its people and help the region. These agreements provide the basis for that," says the US Embassy spokesman, Ambassador Adam Ereli.
While officials were celebrating the agreement's passage, they emphasized that it wouldn't take real shape until the details were hammered out.
"The real work will start now to form all these committees for the first week in January," says Zebari.
Officials have been bracing for violence that was threatened if the agreement passed. Iraqi soldiers, paramilitary, and police were out in full force on the streets of Baghdad, where there are still explosions almost every day.
Iraqi security forces have generally welcomed the help of American troops, but would like to see them leave as soon as possible.
"This agreement is good for us," says a young national policeman, manning a checkpoint as a convoy of wedding vehicles draped in ribbons and plastic flowers drove past, while relatives of the bride and groom sang and danced.