Iraqi parliament delays troop pact vote over unrelated issues

BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament postponed a pivotal vote on a U.S.-Iraq security agreement on Wednesday while key lawmakers sought compromises that would appease an alliance of Sunni parties.

The conditions in the pact, which would end the U.S. presence here by 2012, aren't up for debate.

Instead, members of parliament are trying to craft a companion measure that would persuade more political blocs to back the security agreement.

Sticking points include requests to review Iraq's de-Baathification policies that prevent members of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's party from working in the government, and assurances that detainees held in U.S. custody without charges will be released unconditionally.

The security pact likely has enough pledged votes to pass without the Sunni alliance, but the government wants to present a strong majority for it to demonstrate national support for the agreement.

Political blocs reportedly have agreed to give voters a chance to affirm or reject the security agreement in a national referendum in July.

The U.S. military would have at least a year to leave the country if voters reject the pact because its articles state that canceling the agreement requires a minimum notice of 12 months. That would keep the American military in Iraq through mid-2010.

"We don't have an objection to that," said Heider al Abady, a member of parliament from the Dawa party. His bloc, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, is one of the Shiite groups endorsing the pact as a safe way to end the U.S. occupation without creating a security vacuum.

Abady characterized Wednesday's bartering as "face-saving" attempts. He said it would be appropriate to review the detainee and de-Baathification policies over time because of Iraq's changing environment in its political and security realms.

He said the parliament's priority should be settling the security agreement, which is meant to replace an expiring United Nations mandate that allows the U.S. to conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government.

Abady, like most Iraqi politicians, regards that mandate as unacceptable for a sovereign Iraq.

"There is no time left," he said. The U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.

So far, the Bush administration has not released the official English-language version of the agreement, largely, officials say, to avoid a dispute over the interpretation of the pact.

McClatchy reported on Tuesday that the Bush administration has a much looser understanding of several key provisions than does the Iraqi government. Included is language that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.

Representatives from Tawafuq, the Sunni alliance at the center of negotiations, portrayed their push for a referendum as a chance to give Iraqis a check on the agreement after seeing how it's implemented.

"We want to give Iraqi people a chance to express their opinions," said Tawafuq lawmaker Omar Abdul Sattar.

A number of Iraqi political blocs have opened the door Tawafuq's push, including a Kurdish bloc that has backed the security agreement from the outset.

"Yes, we have some political compromises, but they are, in general, for the benefit of the country," Foad Masoun, the head of Kurdish National Alliance, said on Iraqi television late Wednesday.

Lawmakers tied to anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr remain unyielding in their opposition to the agreement, but they don't have enough numbers to derail it.

"The agreement will take Iraq from direct occupation by the Americans to another form of occupation by the Americans," said Sadrist lawmaker Nasser al Rubaie.

(Ashton reports for the Modesto (Calif.) Bee)


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