- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s parliament approved a pact that allows U.S. troops to remain in the country for another three years Thursday, but it linked its consent to political reforms and a referendum to reaffirm the accord in July.

The status-of-forces agreement, which is expected to be ratified by the three-member Presidential Council, is set to go into effect Jan. 1.

“This is a historic day for the great Iraqi people,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a 10-minute address on national television. “We have achieved one of its most important achievements in approving the agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq and restoring the sovereignty it lost two decades ago.”

Mr. al-Maliki was referring to former President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to U.N. sanctions and a broad international isolation.

The strings attached to passing the deal represented an eleventh-hour concession made by the government to a bloc of Sunni parliamentarians to secure their support. If the measure is rejected by the July referendum, U.S. forces could have to depart Iraq within a year unless a new arrangement was put in place.

“It is not only the Iraqi parliament that has a role in overseeing this agreement, but the Iraqi people,” National Security Adviser Muwafaq al-Rubaie said on Al-Arabiya television earlier this week.

There were conflicting figures after the voting in the 275-member chamber, but most reports said three-quarters, or up to 200 lawmakers, voted in favor. Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was quoted as saying the ratification was “overwhelming.”

Under the pact, Iraq will have strict oversight over the nearly 150,000 American troops now on the ground, representing a step toward full sovereignty for Iraq. It will replace the expiring U.N. Security Council mandate that gave legitimacy to the U.S.-led presence after Saddam’s ousting in 2003.

According to the pact’s provisions, all U.S. troops must leave Iraq by midnight on Dec. 31, 2011, but they must abandon their bases in cities, towns and villages earlier - by June 30, 2009. In addition, the United States pledges not to use Iraq for attacks on neighboring countries such as Iran and Syria.

U.S. forces must also obtain warrants from Iraqi courts before detaining terrorist suspects or searching homes, except in combat situations, and must secure Iraqi Security Force permission for its operations — from daily patrols to large-scale sweeps.

President Bush applauded the parliamentary approval of the accord.

“Two years ago, this day seemed unlikely,” Mr. Bush said in a statement from his mountaintop retreat at Camp David. “But the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi parliament.”

The victory appeared to satisfy the guidelines of the country’s most influential Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who had indicated that the deal would be acceptable only if passed by a comfortable majority

At least one unit is not waiting for the agreement’s formal entry into force before acting to implement its spirit.

Officers of the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division in charge of Baghdad said they will implement the warrant requirement beginning Monday. The 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in East Baghdad, for example, has already compiled information packets on seven to nine suspects, which include signed witness statements and other corroborating evidence.

The packets will be used to obtain warrants from a court. Packets are being prepared for 11 more suspects, but Battalion Executive Officer Maj. Geoff Greene said a lot of ambiguity remains on what can and cannot be done.

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