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Friday, November 28, 2008

Iraqi parliament overwhelms pro-Iran bloc to forge 'strong' partnership with U.S.

BAGHDAD — After nearly a year of negotiations, Iraq has approved a strategic defense agreement with the United States.

On Nov. 27, the Iraqi parliament overwhelmingly voted for the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States.

"This is a historic day for parliament," Iraqi parliament deputy speaker Khalid Al Attiyah said.

SOFA was supported by 149 out of the 275-member parliament — fewer than 200 attended the session. Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish deputies voted for the pact, opposed by the pro-Iranian bloc in parliament.

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"More than three-quarters of those present at today's session voted for the agreement, and that was not expected," Al Attiyah said.

The pro-Iranian bloc, led by the 30-member Shi'ite party of Muqtada Sadr, sought to delay the vote, originally scheduled for Nov. 26. But by Nov. 27, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki amassed a parliamentary majority for SOFA.

"Taken together, these two agreements formalize a strong and equal partnership between the United States and Iraq," a U.S. government statement said. "They provide the means to secure the significant security gains we have achieved together and to deter future aggression."

Under an agreement that allowed the vote, SOFA would be submitted to an Iraqi referendum by July 30, 2009. By that time, U.S. forces would be obligated to withdraw from Iraqi cities. Currently, the U.S. military maintains 150,000 troops in Iraq.

"They establish a framework for cooperation in the fields of defense, political relations, economics, trade, culture, education, the rule of law, health, the environment and science and technology," the statement by U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and military commander Gen. Ray Odierno said.

Officials said SOFA would be sent to the Iraqi Presidential Council. The three-member panel was expected to approve it.

"Iraqis should now feel that they have the control and they have to take the full responsibility [for security]," Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said.

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