Iraq’s fractious parliament squeezed its abrasive speaker out of a job and authorized non-US troops to stay for another half-year on Tuesday in a pair of high-stakes moves in its final session of the year.
Under heavy pressure from Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, Sunni speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani resigned on the losing end of a long-running power struggle. Lawmakers applauded his announcement, quickly approved it. then passed a measure allowing Britain’s 4,000 troops and several smaller contingents from other countries to stay through July.
“I do believe that I was faithfully doing good work,” he said in his address to the chamber where he often offended other lawmakers. “If I caused hurt to you, I ask your forgiveness.”
Al-Mashhadani has clashed repeatedly with Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers in recent years.
The enmity reached its peak last week in a shouting match over the detention of the journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush.
Within a half-hour of his resignation, parliament approved the troops measure in a voice vote — just a week before the UN mandate authorizing foreign troops was to expire.
The new measure will allow non-US troops to stay through and assist US troops until the end of July. The Americans can remain until the end of 2011 under a separate security agreement.
The authorization for foreign troops became entangled in al-Mashhadani’s quarrel with Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers last week, when he hurled abuse during a session and threatened to resign. His opponents ultimately forced him to keep his word. In turn, al-Mashhadani tried to delay until Jan. 7 the vote on the foreign troops resolution — a week after next Tuesday’s expiration of the UN mandate.
Meanwhile, Salvadoran President Tony Saca announced on Tuesday he would withdraw Salvadoran troops from Iraq after Dec. 31, pulling out the only remaining soldiers from Latin America.
Five of El Salvador’s soldiers have been killed and more than 20 have been wounded since the country deployed troops there in 2003.
It currently has 200 soldiers based near the southeastern Shiite city of Kut.
Saca said last month that Iraqi President Jalal Talibani had written him a letter asking him to keep Salvadoran troops in Iraq. But he said the Iraqi government never followed up.
Britain has already said it plans to withdraw its 4,000 troops from southern Iraq by the end of May.
Australia, Estonia and Romania also have troops in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was due to hold talks yesterday with Ankara on ways to fight Turkish separatist Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq.
Maliki was to meet Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Tuesday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, gave fresh assurances that both Baghdad and the Kurdish administration of northern Iraq were determined to purge the region of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We, the Iraqi Kurds, will no longer allow armed people from any Kurdish group to use our territory to carry out attacks on Turkey or Iran,” Talabani said in an interview with Turkey’s Aksam daily published yesterday.
“We will take the necessary measures,” he said, adding that Kurdish parties in northern Iraq would soon convene a meeting to issue a joint appeal to the PKK to abandon its armed struggle.