11/17/2008, 00.00
IRAQ – UNITED STATES
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Uncertain parliamentary vote hanging over US troop withdrawal plan

Iraq’s cabinet approves security plan with the United States; it includes US troop pullout by the end of 2011 and new rules of engagement. Parliament must now vote on the deal which then goes to the country’s Presidency Council. Fear and worry still prevail among Mosul Christians.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraq's cabinet accepted on Sunday by a vote of 28 to 1 a plan that lays down clear rules of engagement for US troops in Iraq and sets the end of 2011 as the deadline for US military pullout. The Status of Forces Agreement replaces the current United Nations mandate which is set to expire on 31 December 2008.

The agreement began its journey this morning through Iraq’s 275-seat national legislature, where lawmakers are under pressure to vote on it by 25 November.

Once approved by parliament it goes to the Presidency Council, which includes President Jalal Talabani (an ethnic Kurd) and Vice Presidents Tareq Al Hashemi (a Sunni Arab) and Adel Abdul-Mahdi (a Shia Arab), for the final approval.

The cabinet signed onto the deal after a two-hour meeting. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is close to Washington and among the agreement’s main proponents, was backed by the ruling Shia coalition, Kurdish parties and the tacit approval of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the country’s highest Shia religious leader.

Radical Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has instead called the deal a “sell-out” of Iraq to the United States. Sunni opponents to the accord want instead a national referendum before it comes into effect.

Under the agreement US troops come for the first time under Iraqi government control and will not have any immunity for crimes or abuses committed in Iraq. US forces will also pull out of Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and will not be able to carry out any raid without Iraqi approval.

For Iraq the US troop withdrawal deal marks an important step on the path towards stabilisation but many urge caution. Should it fail to pass parliament, it will be back to square one. 

In the past parliament did flex its muscles and defeat bills adopted by cabinet. This happened for example to an oil bill that was a year in the making.

A source also told AsiaNews that caution is imperative. “It is too soon to talk about a US pullout” because “the country is not stable and will not be so in the short run.”

On top of the source’s list of concerns is the possibility that once the US is out an all out civil war might break out as various factions vie for power.

In the meantime tensions remain high in Mosul after two Christian women Lamia Sobhy Salloha and Walàa Sobhy Salloha were assassinated last week.

Local Christians are still afraid of new attacks as each day brings its share of “fear and anxiety”.

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