Iraqi Cleric Bids to Kill US Pact in Parliament

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Agence France Presse

Iraqi Cleric Bids to Kill US Pact in Parliament

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Members of the Sadr Movement protest the US presence in Iraq during a demonstration in Baghdad in October 2008. Followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were to make a bid Monday to kill a controversial Iraq-US military pact passed by the Iraqi cabinet by trying to block it in parliament. (AFP/File/Ali Yussef)

BAGHDAD  - Followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr were making a bid on Monday to kill a controversial Iraq-US
military pact passed by the Iraqi cabinet by trying to block it in
parliament.

The Sadrist movement has vigorously opposed the
wide-ranging agreement, which would replace a UN mandate that expires
at the end of the year and allow US forces to remain in the country
until the end of 2011.

Ahmed Masaudi, spokesman for Sadr's
30-member parliamentary bloc, said the movement would submit a bill
that would require a two-thirds majority for parliamentary approval,
replacing the current requirement of a simple majority.

"(The
current law) is contrary to the constitution and to the instructions
from the Guide, Sistani, to obtain a national consensus on this
agreement," Masaudi said on Sunday, referring to Grand Ayatollah Ali
Husseini al-Sistani.

The country's most powerful Shiite cleric
has not taken a clear position on the agreement other than to say it
should respect Iraq's "sovereignty," and has left the decision to
approve the deal to elected leaders.

But Sadr and his followers
have adamantly opposed concluding any agreement with the US "occupier"
and have vowed to hold mass demonstrations to demand the immediate
withdrawal of all foreign forces.

"The Sadr movement will use
every legal avenue to work to stop this agreement," Masaudi said,
adding that the group was determined to form an alliance inside
parliament to kill the proposed pact.

The 275-member parliament
started its first reading of the proposed military accord on Monday
after the deputy speaker said on Sunday the session would began a
week-long process of deliberation before a final vote on November 24.

"Members
of the legal committee have begun examining the draft agreement between
Iraq and the United States on the withdrawal of American forces," a
parliamentary source told AFP on Monday.

The pact was expected to
pass parliament after winning approval from the Iraqi cabinet on Sunday
with the support of the major political blocs representing Iraq's
Shiite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish communities.

If
parliament approves the pact it would need to be ratified by Iraq's
presidential council before Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki could sign
the agreement with US President George W. Bush.

In a symbolic
ceremony broadcast on state television before Monday's parliamentary
session began, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and US Ambassador
Ryan Crocker applied their signatures to the pact.

"This is a
historic day for relations between the United States and Iraq," Zebari
said. "After difficult negotiations the cabinet has approved the
agreement and sent it to parliament which will have the last word."

Crocker thanked the negotiating teams on both sides.

"It was complicated and tough negotiations, and all the Iraqis can be very proud of this agreement," he said.

US
president-elect Barack Obama told CBS television on Sunday that when he
takes office on January 20, "I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
my national security apparatus, and we will start executing a plan that
draws down our troops" from Iraq.

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