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Iraqi Parliament Approves Military Pact With US

The Iraqi parliament has voted to approve a controversial military pact with the United States that will allow U.S. troops to remain in the country for three more years. The new pact will replace a U.N. mandate which expires on December 31. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the deal's approval as a historic, important achievement in restoring Iraq's sovereignty. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.

The Iraqi parliament session got under way after intense behind the scenes negotiations between different factions, and the vote on the new military pact between Iraq and the U.S. was approved by a comfortable margin, albeit less than the overwhelming consensus vote that some had been predicting.

Government spokesman Ali Debbagh said the vote to approve the pact represented a major achievement by the government and a national consensus of all Iraqi political factions.

He says that Iraq is now entering a period of peace and restoration of its sovereignty, in addition to a new relation with the United States. He says Iraqi forces will have more responsibility for security in the country in the countdown towards a U.S. withdrawal.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker congratulated the Iraqi government and parliament, after the vote, adding that he hoped the accord would also be approved by Iraq's Presidential Council.

"The agreements," he said, "formalize a strong and equal partnership between the U.S. and Iraq…..and provide the means to secure the significant security gains that we have achieved together and to deter future aggression."

Opponents of the pact, including the 30-member bloc loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr, waved posters denouncing the accord and tried to disrupt the vote with periodic outbursts during the session, thumping on chairs and clapping their hands. Sadr's supporters called the accord "void, and unlawful."

Pro-Sadr lawmaker, Maha Duri, said the accord would not achieve the stated goal of the government, which is the ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

She says that the accord was forced on a weak Iraqi government by the United States and it doesn't require U.S. troops to withdraw from the country at the end of the pact.

Government spokesman Ali Debbagh, noted that accord requires American troops will withdraw from the country in December of 2011, at its conclusion, and that there is no reason for American forces to remain beyond that date, unless the security situation warrants it.

He says that after the end of the military pact in 2011 there will no longer be any need for U.S. troops in the country, so long as all Iraqis unite behind the security forces and that all remaining zones of tension are calm.

Iraq's National Security Advisor Muwafaq al Rubaie insisted, after the vote, that Iraq's army and security forces are taking "all necessary precautions to keep the peace," and that he thinks they will be "prepared for the task of keeping the peace after U.S. forces withdraw in 2011."

Several Sunni factions voted to approve the new military pact, but several others joined forces with Muqtada Sadr to oppose it. Member of Parliament Mohammed Dani of the mostly sunni National Dialogue Front explains why his party opposed the accord.

He complains that the accord goes against various international agreements, and that it carves into stone a fairly lengthy opposition. He adds that it doesn't oblige U.S. troops to withdraw at its conclusion and that now the "U.S. occupation" has gained the approval of parliament.

Al Arabiya TV reports that Iraqi public opinion over the military pact with the United States is "fairly divided," but that there were no major disruptions in the capital Baghdad after parliament voted to approve it.