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Iraq: 2009 referendum on US troop withdrawal

Video by Luke BROWN , Clément MASSE

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-26

Iraq will hold a referendum next July on a wide-ranging military pact allowing US troops to remain in the country until 2011.The Iraqi parliament earlier announced it would delay its own vote on the pact until Thursday.

 
   
Iraq plans to hold a referendum on a controversial military pact allowing US troops to remain for another three years that parliament is expected to adopt on Thursday in a delayed vote.
   
The decision to hold such a referendum could set Baghdad on a collision course with Washington, which needs the military pact to replace its troops' UN mandate to operate in Iraq, which expires on December 31.
   
"It is not only the Iraqi parliament that has a role in overseeing this agreement, but the Iraqi people, who will have a referendum on July 30 so they can see if the agreement is correct or not, six months after it comes into effect," Iraq's top negotiator Muwafaq al-Rubaie told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.
   
Rubaie, the lead negotiator of the agreement who also serves as national security advisor, spoke shortly after parliament postponed a vote on the landmark pact to Thursday amid a flurry of last-minute talks.
   
The 275-member assembly had been expected to endorse the agreement on Wednesday, but its approval could have little meaning if the agreement is subjected to a popular vote seven months after coming into force.
   
"If the Iraqi people reject the agreement in the referendum the government will have two choices, either to cancel it or renegotiate it," Reza Jawad Taqi, an MP from parliament's main Shiite bloc, told AFP.
   
The measure would govern some 150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
   
Parliament briefly convened in the afternoon to announce it would delay the final vote until Thursday at 10:00 am (0700 GMT).
   
"The general atmosphere indicates there will be an agreement, the leaders have agreed on all the points under discussion except for one," parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani said, without giving further details.
   
The measure enjoys the support of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Kurdish alliance, and a number of independent MPs -- enough for it to pass with slightly more than the requisite simple majority of 138 votes.
   
But deputy parliamentary speaker Khaled al-Attiya said the government and the UIA were making a last-minute push to assemble a broader coalition.
   
"We do not want to pass this agreement with a difference of two or three or four votes," Attiya told AFP. "For this reason there are continuing efforts to achieve a vast majority."
   
Attiya and other officials have said the demands made by the blocs in closed-door sessions do not concern the agreement itself, which was approved by Iraq's cabinet with the support of the main Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish blocs.
   
A spokesman for the National Concord Front -- the main Sunni bloc with 39 votes -- said lawmakers were trying to hash out an agreement to meet the bloc's demand for political reforms related to national reconciliation.
   
The Sunni bloc said its second demand, that the agreement be put to a national referendum next year, had been met.
   
"The referendum is important because the agreement is important, so the Iraqi people have to speak up about it," MP Iyad al-Samarrai, the head of the bloc, told reporters.
   
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a powerful party led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, came out in support of many of the Sunni demands, including the call for a referendum, in a statement posted on their website.
   
But Attiya said on the eve of the vote that a referendum was out of the question because the Americans were sure to reject it.
   
"We told them that is not in our hands. The Americans will reject this proposal, definitely," Attiya told AFP on Tuesday.
   
Iraq won a number of concessions in the deal, including a hard timeline for withdrawal, the right to search US military cargo and the right to try US soldiers for crimes committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.
   
The pact also forbids US troops from using Iraq as a launch-pad or transit point for attacking another country, which may reassure Syria and Iran, according to the official Arabic version of the pact, translated by AFP.
   
But the English version has not been made public, and US officials in Washington said there may be a public dispute between the two sides over the interpretation of certain parts of the agreement.
   

Date created : 2008-11-26

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