Iraq's Parliament Approves Security Agreement With United States

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 28, 2008

BAGHDAD, Nov. 27 -- The Iraqi parliament on Thursday approved a security pact that requires the U.S. military to end its presence in Iraq in 2011, eight years after a U.S.-led invasion brought about the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"It's a historic day for the great Iraqi people," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a nationally televised address. "It represents the first step on the road to regain national sovereignty."

Just over half of the parliament members voted to approve the agreement, which will give the United States a legal basis to maintain its forces in Iraq but requires American commanders to work more closely with Iraqi authorities than they have in the past. A United Nations mandate authorizing the U.S. presence expires Dec. 31.

The pact also restricts the powers of the U.S. military to search homes, detain Iraqi citizens and conduct military operations, and gives Iraqi officials oversight over American forces. U.S. troops could be prosecuted under Iraqi laws for serious crimes committed when off duty and off their bases, although the United States retains the power to determine whether a service member was off duty. Still, the changes represent a dramatic shift for a nation where most citizens felt humiliation at having American troops on their soil.

The agreement is a significant victory for Maliki, who can take credit for ushering in the end of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. That feat could bolster his influence and popularity ahead of provincial and national elections scheduled for next year.

Despite heated last-minute negotiations for political concessions, Iraq's feuding sects came together to vote in a rare show of unity. Passage required a simple majority of 138 votes in the 275-seat parliament; on Thursday, 149 members endorsed the security agreement, 35 opposed it and 14 abstained, lawmakers said. Seventy-seven members were not present for the vote.

It remained unclear whether the number of votes satisfied the wishes of the country's preeminent Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who had said any deal should have the support of all of Iraq's parties in order to be legitimate.

The approval of the security pact sent a message to Iraq's powerful neighbors, including Iran and Syria, who lobbied hard against it. "The message to Iran is that the Iraqi people decided to take their decision on their own. Iraq has its own sovereignty now. Iraq will not be controlled by any neighboring country," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc, which has railed against Iranian influence in Iraq.

While it sets a clear deadline for an American withdrawal, the pact also allows the Iraqi government to negotiate with the United States to extend the presence of U.S. troops if conditions on the ground are not stable. The pact also allows certain foreign security contractors to be tried under Iraqi law for crimes.

The agreement now has to be approved by Iraq's Presidency Council -- composed of President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, and his deputies, one Shiite and one Sunni.

The vote clears away a vexing hurdle for the Bush administration, which had increasingly feared that approval of the agreement might slip out of its reach before President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

President Bush said in a statement issued in Washington that the vote "affirms the growth of Iraq's democracy and increasing ability to secure itself."

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