Iraq parliament may vote on British troop presence

Other News Materials 22 December 2008 12:27 (UTC +04:00)

Iraq's parliament may vote on Monday on a proposal giving troops from Britain, Australia and a handful of other countries permission to stay on after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year, parliamentary sources said.

Parliament on Saturday rejected a law that would have sanctioned the presence of the foreign soldiers, reported Reuters.

Deputies argued that foreign relations could not be governed by legislation but required the Iraqi government to negotiate treaties or agreements with the individual countries.

Due to the short time left before the end of the year, parliamentary factions said the body was likely to issue an interim resolution, memo or even a law allowing the forces to remain in Iraq until proper treaties or agreements are signed.

"I can say there is a 90 percent chance the vote will happen today. Yesterday almost all the blocs agreed on that," said Jaber Habeeb Jabir, a deputy from the Independent bloc of the Shi'ite alliance, which is part of the ruling coalition.

"Parliament has no other choice but to authorize the government to go ahead and make these deals."

Deputies said whether the vote would be on a law, a resolution or some form of memo was not entirely clear but the effect would be to give the Iraqi government the authority to negotiate deals with the individual countries.

A source from the office of deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Atia, who asked not be identified, said parliament could hold the vote later on Monday.

"God willing we will vote today," the source said.

The draft law would have covered the presence of 4,100 British troops, based mainly around the southern city of Basra and its oil fields and oil ports, and smaller deployments by Australia, Romania, Estonia, El Salvador and NATO.

Under the legislation, the foreign forces would have to cease combat operations at the end of May and withdraw completely by the end of July, more than six years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Deputies did not appear to be opposed to the actual terms or the timetable established in the law, just to the format in which the withdrawal deal was framed.

They said they wanted something similar in format to a U.S.-Iraq bilateral security pact that allows 140,000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq to stay for three more years.

The deals covering the presence of foreign troops replace a U.N. mandate, which expires at the end of the year, and also mark the beginning of the end of the Iraq war.

The ethnic slaughter and insurgent violence unleashed by the invasion have dropped significantly over recent months although suicide and car bombs remain common.

Iraq parliament may vote on British troop presence

From next year, Iraqi police and soldiers will take the lead in ensuring security. U.S. combat forces will have to leave Iraqi cities and villages by the end of June and will not be able to conduct operations without Iraqi permission.