Iraq signals willingness to allow some US forces to stay
Lawmakers in Baghdad agreed to negotiate a deal with the US that could see thousands of US forces in Iraq to train local forces.
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Although the statement said all attendees had agreed to the statement, which calls for negotiations with the US to be conducted in a spirit of cooperation and friendship, the head of the Sadr bloc, made up of lawmakers loyal to Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, walked out of the meeting in protest before it was read. The Sadrists consider the US still an occupying force and have made clear they will vote against any agreement to keep American forces.Skip to next paragraph
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The Sadr bloc has been an essential part of Maliki’s coalition government, cobbled together after Maliki’s State of Law coalition won two fewer seats than Ayad Allawi’s political bloc in elections last year.
“Our stand is clear from the beginning,” says Sadr member of parliament Amir al-Kinani. “We are opposing the Americans on our soil regardless of some other political blocs that are trying to gain political advantage from this agreement.”
Mr. Kinani says the Sadrists would vote against the agreement in parliament and that his party had no problem with signing contracts for US military trainers in the future but that first all existing American troops in Iraq would have to leave.
Cracks in Maliki's coalition
In recent weeks, Maliki’s coalition has appeared increasingly shaky, as some of his Shiite partners turned against him to side with Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc on issues including voting against dissolving Iraq’s electoral commission – a move Maliki had sought citing allegations of corruption.
“This triggered the alarm to them that they were left alone,” says Kinani.
Maliki, who has resisted calls for compromise on a defense minister, has essentially been acting as both defense and interior minister with long-standing criticism that he has diverted security forces and intelligence services to answer directly to his office. The agreement with Iraqiya promises more power-sharing.
“One reason that we were encouraged by what has happened last night and frankly what has happened recently in the political give-and-take here is that there seem to be broad partnerships in political coalitions emerging that take tough decisions,” says the US embassy official. “This is very good. Because we don’t want to be partner to a dictatorship or to a one-party regime.”
The agreement came after intense pressure from a series of US officials, most recently the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who met Maliki and Talabani Sunday to tell them that time was running out.
“With respect to the forces that are here for us a significant part of this is just a physics problem – you get to a point in time where you just can't turn back and all the troops must leave that's why it's so important to make the decision absolutely as soon as possible," Admiral Mullen told reporters.
He said any agreement with Iraq to keep soldiers here would require immunity for military personnel, an issue that would have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament.
The embassy official says the agreement reached last night included implicit acknowledgement that the deal would require immunity for American troops and would be presented to the Iraqi parliament.