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Iraq legislators delay US pact vote
Vote delayed one day amid reservations by Sunnis and opposition by Shia hardliners.
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2008 15:00 GMT

The pact now includes a clear exit timetable for the 150,000 US troops currently in Iraq [AFP]

Iraq's parliamentary vote on a wide-ranging accord that would allow US troops to stay in the country for another three years has been postponed.

MPs will now vote on the pact on Thursday, after reservations by Sunnis and fierce opposition by Shia groups threatened to derail the agreement altogether.

The agreement has been subject to numerous revisions in an attempt to keep various political factions on board and push the deal through parliament with a respectable majority.

The pact now makes provision for Iraqi supervision of US forces and also meets demands for a clear exit timetable for the 150,000 American troops in Iraq.

However, the Shia-led government was still struggling to agree concessions demanded by different political blocs in return for lending their support for the pact.

'Complications'

Despite this, Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, insisted it was still possible to reach an agreement on the deal.

"There are complications, but we haven't lost hope yet," he said. 

"We do not want to pass this agreement with a difference of two or three votes. For this reason we are continuing efforts to achieve a vast majority"

Khaled al-Attiya, Iraqi deputy parliamentary speaker

The 275-member assembly are expected to vote at 10:00 [07:00 GMT] on the pact, which would require US troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

The measure is broadly supported by the Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Kurdish alliance and a number of independent MPs - enough for it to pass with slightly more than the requisite simple majority of 138 votes.

But Khaled al-Attiya, the deputy parliamentary speaker, said the government and the UIA were making a last-minute push to assemble a broader coalition.

'Vast majority'

"We do not want to pass this agreement with a difference of two or three or four votes," Attiya told the AFP news agency on the eve of the vote. 

"For this reason there are continuing efforts to achieve a vast majority."

A spokesman for the National Concord Front - the main Sunni bloc with 39 votes - said legislators were trying to hash out an  agreement to meet the bloc's demand for political reforms related to national reconciliation.
  
"The reason for the delay is that the presidential committee of parliament and the presidential council have reached an agreement that includes a set of political reforms," Salim Abdullah told the AFP.
  
"Now there is a meeting to prepare a clear framework of the decision with the agreement of the political blocs."

The Sunni bloc had also demanded that the agreement be put to a national referendum next year, but Attiya said on Tuesday that proposal was dead in the water as far as the Americans were concerned.

Withdrawal timeline

The agreement - the product of nearly a year of hard-nosed negotiations - was approved by Iraq's cabinet over a week ago with support from the major blocs representing the country's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities.
  
Iraq won a number of concessions in the deal, including a hard timeline for withdrawal, the right to search US military cargo and the right to try US soldiers for crimes committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.
  
The agreement also requires that US troops obtain Iraqi permission for all military operations, and that they hand over the  files of all detainees in US custody to the Iraqi authorities, who will decide their fate.

The pact also forbids US troops from using Iraq as a launch-pad or transit point for attacking another country, which may reassure Syria and Iran.
  
But the accord has drawn fire from certain quarters, including followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader. 

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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