The deal on the future presence of US troops in Iraq (photo, from bbc.co.uk) has been accepted by the country’s parliament.
US president George W. Bush has praised the decision that means US troops will leave Iraqi streets by June 30, 2009, and will then quit Iraq entirely by the end of 2011.
The agreement is fiercely opposed by some groups, in parliament and at rallies, which demand that US troops leave earlier.
The deal still has to be ratified by Iraq’s presidential council, but its approval is expected.
The parliamentary session has been hailed by Iraq’s government as the prelude to the return of full sovereignty to the country.
198 of the 275 members of the parliament were present, and 149 voted in favour. An initial Iraqi count had put the figure at 144.
Reporting from Baghdad, BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley said that during the debate, the chamber saw rowdy scenes of stamping, shouting and the waving of placards.
The vote in favour of the pact was backed by the ruling coalition’s Shia and Kurdish blocs, as well as the largest Sunni Arab bloc which had demanded concessions for supporting the deal.
The 18-page agreement is due to take effect when the UN mandate now governing the troops will expire on December 31.
The vote had been delayed for a day because of last-minute negotiations, after which MPs passed it on one significant condition : that a referendum is held on the pact in the middle of next year.
According to BBC’s correspondent, if the referendum fails to endorse the withdrawal plan, US troops may have to leave earlier, possibly by the middle of 2010.
In order to create a sense of national consensus, mainstream Shia and Kurdish parties, who before the vote had been able to muster 138 votes, had needed support from the minority Sunni MPs.
Concerning the disbanding of a special tribunal dealing with crimes committed when Saddam Hussein was in power and laws over former members of Saddam’s Baath party, who were almost all Sunnis, they failed to win concessions.
But while the Sunni parties now support the withdrawal plan, MPs from a hard-line Shia block, the Sadrists, voted against, and while the show of hands was being counted they were on their feet, waving banners and shouting “No, No, No” to the US.
‘Victory for democracy’
The US president congratulated the Iraqi parliament in a statement from Washington, saying that the vote had affirmed “the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself”.
“We look forward to a swift approval by Iraq’s [Presidential] Council”, he added.
The vote would “formalise a strong and equal partnership”, said earlier a joint statement from US Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and Gen Ray Odierno, the top commander of US troops in Iraq.
Before the vote, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said its success would constitute a “victory for democracy because the opposition have done their part and the supporters have done their part”.
“Everyone should understand that if there are gains, they are for all Iraqis, and if there are losses, they will also be for all Iraqis”, he added.
By the end of 2011, all 150 000 US troops will have left Iraq, according to the deal.
Because the UN mandate expires on 31 December of this year, it was necessary to determine the role of US military forces in Iraq.