BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament will likely vote in favour of a pact that sets a date for U.S. military forces to withdraw but will make it dependent on a public referendum, lawmakers said on Wednesday.
The deal, which would see the last U.S. soldier leave at the end of 2011 — more than eight years after the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein — was due to be put to a vote in parliament later in the day but continued to face opposition.
The agreement to hold a referendum is seen as a concession by Kurdish and Shi’ite blocs to Sunni Arab deputies who have said they would back the security pact if it was put to a nationwide vote next year.
If the proposal for a referendum is approved by parliament, the security pact would be passed, said Abdul-Kareem Al-Samaraie, a deputy from the main Sunni group, the Accordance Front, which had demanded a popular vote. “There will be an initial approval of the security pact until we hold the referendum in 2009. It will be valid until then. If the result is a ‘No’, it will be cancelled. If it is a ‘Yes,’ it will pass,” he said.
A senior lawmaker from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party said he had no problem with that and a Kurdish lawmaker, whose group is a partner in Maliki’s Shi’ite-led coalition, concurred.
On Baghdad’s streets, where bodies once piled up overnight as deathsquads formed by majority Shi’ites battled al Qaeda-affiliated Sunni fighters, some looked forward to the departure of American soldiers. “After five years of occupation, fighting, and instability, Iraq must be put on a steady base that will protect its sovereignty. The pact is the beginning of the end of the occupation,” said Imad Hameed.
A simply majority vote in favour of the pact had always appeared likely in parliament. But Maliki’s government needed a broad consensus to satisfy Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Under the deal U.S. forces, estimated at 150,000 troops, will withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and the country by the end of 2011. The pact will put the Iraqi government back in charge of security.