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Iraqi Parliament Approves Landmark US Military Pact


BAGHDAD - Iraq's parliament on Thursday approved a landmark
military pact that will see all US troops withdraw by the end of 2011,
eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and plunged
the country into chaos.

After 11 months of hard-nosed
negotiations with Washington and a flurry of domestic political
horse-trading leading up to the vote, the pact was approved by 149
members of the 198 who attended the session of the 275-member assembly.

final count of the votes was provided by the office of Deputy
Parliamentary Speaker Khaled al-Attiya, which corrected an earlier
count announced during the parliamentary session itself.

Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government succeeded in corralling
a majority to support the historic agreement, including the main blocs
representing the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

if this passes it will be a victory for democracy because the
opposition have done their part and the supporters have done their
part," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said ahead of the vote.

"It is good to see that representatives have reached a national consensus."

agreement was approved by the cabinet a week ago and is now virtually
guaranteed to be ratified by Iraq's presidential council.

United States hailed the passing of the agreement, saying it would
"formalise a strong and equal partnership" in a statement from
Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, the top commander of
US troops in Iraq.

"(The agreement) provides the means to secure
the significant security gains we have achieved together and to deter
future aggression," they said. "We congratulate the government of Iraq
and its elected representatives."

The measure would govern some
150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases when their UN mandate
expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power
over virtually all of their operations.

It marks a coming-of-age
for Maliki's government, which drove a hard bargain with Washington,
securing a number of concessions over nearly a year of tough

The accord has still drawn fire from certain
quarters, including followers of the hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr, who reject any agreement with the United States and who
protested at the accord in Baghdad last Friday.

As the voting on
the pact began several Sadrist MPs pounded tables in a bid to hinder
the vote, chanting "Yes, yes to Iraq... No, no, to the occupation," but
the 30-member bloc failed to defeat the agreement.

The vote came
after a flurry of last-minute negotiations in which the main Sunni
parties secured a package of political reforms from the government and
a commitment to hold a referendum on the pact in the middle of next

Should the Iraqi government decide to cancel the pact after
the referendum it would have to give Washington one year's notice,
meaning that troops would be allowed to remain in the country only
until the middle of 2010.

The pact was made possible in part by
dramatic improvements in security over the past year, with US and Iraqi
forces largely containing the violence and the chaos that erupted in
the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion and Saddam's ouster.

moments before the vote two people were killed and more than two dozen
wounded in separate suicide bombings in northern Iraq targeting local
security forces, underscoring the lingering violence in the country.

the first attack south of the city of Mosul, a suicide car bomb rammed
into a police patrol, killing two civilians and wounding 25 others,
including 15 policemen, police said.

In the second, a bomber
strapped with explosives wounded four people when the attacker targeted
a police patrol in the centre of Mosul -- which the US military
considers the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Iraq won a
number of concessions in the agreement, 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

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, according to the official Arabic
version of the pact, translated by AFP.

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