ML-Iraq 2ndLd-Writethru 11-26 Web
Sunnis win timeline demand
Iraq’s ruling Shiite and Kurdish blocs have made a key concession to a large group of Sunni Arab legislators in hopes of securing a big majority in a parliamentary vote on a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, a senior Shiite lawmaker and a close aide to the prime minister said today.
The proposed deal would let American troops stay in Iraq through 2011, meeting a longtime Iraqi demand for a clear timetable for their exit.
But the intensity of political maneuvering among Iraqi factions contributed to deep uncertainty about the outcome of a vote scheduled for today that will determine the status of 150,000 troops in Iraq after years of war.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s ruling coalition appears to be assured of at least a slim majority in the 275-seat legislature. But the prime minister seeks a bigger win that transcends Iraq’s factionalism and sectarian divisions and reinforces the legitimacy of the pact, which could lead to full Iraqi sovereignty and close the bloody chapter that began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Shiite Lawmaker Ridha Jawad Taqi said the government’s Shiite and Kurdish blocs, which account for about 140 seats, or a slight majority in the legislature, were willing to hold a national referendum on the deal in 2009. That amounts to a concession to many Sunni Arab legislators, who have said they would support the security pact today if it was put to a nationwide vote next year.
So the deal, if approved in the parliamentary vote, could still be rescinded if it fails in the popular referendum.
A referendum would give the Iraqi people a chance to evaluate "whether their interests have been achieved," said Alaa Makki, a member of parliament’s biggest Sunni Arab bloc, the 44-seat Iraqi Accordance Front.
A senior al-Maliki aide confirmed the concession by the Kurdish and Shiite blocs. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, he said a draft bill containing provisions for the referendum and a package of political reforms demanded by the Sunnis would be voted on separately in parliament, also today.
Under the deal, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012. Iraq will also have strict oversight over U.S. forces. The U.N. mandate that currently governs the conduct of American troops gives them freer rein, leading to Iraqi complaints that they are an occupying force intent on preserving U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The vote count will be as important as the overall result because the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has indicated that the deal would be acceptable only if it’s passed by a big margin. He could scuttle the deal if he speaks against it.
If parliament approves the pact, it must be ratified by the three members of the Presidential Council, each of whom has veto power. Two members support the deal. The third, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, is a Sunni Arab who could support it if he believes that parliament’s biggest Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, has secured enough political gains in pre-vote dealmaking.
The Presidency Council, which also includes President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, has led a flurry of contacts with political leaders over the past week to fashion a compromise that would push through the security pact.
A lot of the negotiations barely relate to the security pact because political groups are seizing the opportunity to trade their support for concessions on other issues.
In addition to the referendum issue, the Sunni Arabs and smaller groups in parliament have made their agreement to the pact conditional on a package of sweeping political reforms for a more equitable power-sharing formula between the country’s Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab communities.