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Iraqi Parliament Passes New Budget After Delays

Iraqi lawmakers have passed the 2008 budget after weeks of delays and threats to dissolve the parliament over the deadlock.

Iraq's parliament approved the $48 billion budget Wednesday, as well as two other bills, an amnesty law that could free thousands of prisoners and another on provincial powers.

A day earlier, scores of lawmakers stormed out of parliament after they were unable to adopt the bills following disagreements among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish politicians.

In other news, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey told reporters in Baghdad today that he is encouraged by the work being accomplished in Iraq. He says Iraqis are firmly committed to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

Mukasey traveled to Baghdad for talks with senior U.S. and Iraqi officials on cooperative efforts to promote the rule of law in Iraq.

It was Mukasey's first trip to Iraq since taking office last November.

Also today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is clear U.S. forces must remain in Iraq beyond this year to continue progress in stabilizing the country.

In a column published Wednesday in The Washington Post newspaper, the officials said the continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq will not bind the future U.S. president to Bush administration policies. But they warned that the current year is a critical transition time for Iraq.