Iraq's Parliament Sets U.S. Troop Pullout Deadline

U.S.-Iraq accord lets troops stay for now, but says they must be out by the end of 2011.

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While Americans celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, the Iraq government rejoiced over its own "historic day," in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's words, with Parliament ratifying a security agreement to have U.S. troops leave by the end of 2011.

The pact, which passed 149 to 35, grants the United States legal basis to remain in the country. The United Nations mandate authorizing the American presence expires on December 31. Iraq's presidency council still must agree to the pact for it to become law, but this is expected to occur in the next several days.

By setting a deadline for American withdrawal, the agreement represented a victory for the Iraqi government. It also was a victory in another way: It showed that the government could overcome fractious political and ethnic issues to agree on a compromise. Issues that had stalled the agreement included how oil revenues would be divided and what would happen to the city of Kirkuk. Earlier this week, some lawmakers argued that the pact didn't protect Iraq's oil wealth against being seized to resolve legal claims against Saddam Hussein's government.

The vote on the pact itself had been delayed at the last minute in an attempt to satisfy Iraq's biggest Sunni party. The Iraqi Islamic Party had wanted a nationwide referendum on the issue, the abolition of a criminal court trying Saddam Hussein's former government officials, and the lifting of restrictions on appointing former Baathists to government jobs.

Many Iraqis also opposed the pact, particularly out of anger that the United States would be allowed to stay for another three years. Nearly 10,000 of them, mostly Shiites, protested the agreement in Baghdad last week.

In the agreement that passed, many, if not all, of the various groups' issues were addressed. One law included requires a referendum on the pact in July 2009. Other Sunni demands that were recognized included enforcing an amnesty law for detainees held in Iraq, and for a better balance among religious sects in the security forces.

Other aspects of the pact curb American power, particularly to conduct operations, detain Iraqis, and search homes. The agreement also gives Iraqi officials oversight over U.S. forces.

The question now, of course, is whether Iraq is ready for the U.S. military to begin its withdrawal.

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