Iraq referendum won't delay forces agreement, Rice said
Iraq's proposal to hold a referendum next year on a security agreement with the United States does not mean implementation of the deal will be delayed, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.
The Iraqi parliament is poised to approve the security agreement but have attacked plans to hold the national referendum in July. The UN mandate for the presence of US troops expires at the end of this year, but Rice said the pact allows the US military to stay in the interim, dpa reported.
"My understanding is that nothing here delays the entering into force of the agreement and that's really the important point," Rice told reporters after speaking with Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad.
The Iraq parliament postponed a vote on the deal that had been scheduled for Wednesday to Thursday, so the government could continue pushing for broad support of the deal. The leading Shitte and Kurdish parties are expected to back it, but they also want to bring the Sunnis into the fold.
"It's a democratic process and it is taking some time. But I expect that they are going to continue to work on it," Rice said, expressing confidence there will be a vote "very soon."
The United States and Iraq have been in complex negotiations on the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), that would govern the rules of continued US military operations in Iraq. It also calls for the withdrawal of US forces by 2011.