The Iraqi parliament on Thursday paved the way for a US pullout within three years — and a withdrawal from the streets of cities and towns by June next year — when it passed the landmark security pact setting a timetable for the US’ exit.
As many as 148 of the 198 members who turned up supported the historic motion, which for the first time prescribes a departure date and sets out declining duties for the US in the interim.
The Iraqi parliament consists of 275 members, up to 20 percent of whom are thought to have boycotted the vote, or missed it when the speaker convened an unscheduled session. The security pact between Baghdad and Washington was signed last week, but its implementation had remained uncertain until the decisive vote on the floor of the parliament on Thursday.
Deputy Speaker Khalid al-Attiyah, a close ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said: “This is a historic day for parliament. More than three-quarters of those present at today’s session voted for the agreement, and that was not expected.”
The Shiite-led government’s strong showing was largely due to the support of the biggest Sunni bloc, which won one key concession that puts the vote to a national referendum before July 30.
The pact provides for, among other things: continued US special operations against al-Qaeda, coordinated with Iraq’s government; the transfer of control over Iraq’s airspace to Iraqi authorities; Iraqi jurisdiction over US forces and civilians in the country; and the transfer of any persons detained by the US to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours. It also specifies that Iraq not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks on other countries.
The Sunni bloc failed in a bid to tie in the repeal of a law which stripped loyalists of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from the new government’s power base.
The influence of the Baathist regime that ruled Iraq under the executed former president has continued to dwindle since they were ousted from influential roles in the new government after the fall of Baghdad. Shiite and Kurdish factions were staunch backers of the deal, with the exception of the virulently anti-US bloc led by cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr.
The parliamentary vote appeared to clear another potential hurdle with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, the Iranian-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, saying he would not oppose the deal if it was passed by a comfortable majority.
Supporters of the deal were confident that the strong showing in the parliament would be met by a similar vote among citizens. Shiites and Kurds account for 80 percent of Iraq’s 27 million residents.
Al-Maliki claimed the agreement was a key stepping stone toward Iraq gaining full sovereignty. More than five years after the US-led invasion, Washington still controls many of the key levers of power and works alongside the government.
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