Shiite's allied with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and the Kurdish bloc in Iraq's ruling body made a key concession Wednesday to the largest Sunni Party in hopes of securing a big majority in a crucial parliamentary vote later in the day on a U.S.-Iraqi security pact.
Sunni Arab lawmakers have listed a host of demands, varying from sweeping political reforms to amnesty for prisoners who number about 16,000, and a national referendum on the pact, even if the parliament passed it; in exchange for supporting the proposed deal.
This proposed deal would let American troops stay in Iraq through 2011, meeting a longtime Iraqi demand for a clear timetable for their exit. The 275-member assembly is due to vote by a show of hands on the wide-ranging accord, which would require US troops to completely withdraw within three years and pull out from Iraqi cities by the end of June.
Maliki's Shiite bloc and its Kurdish allies hold enough seats to propel the pact through parliament, but Maliki needs Sunni votes to prevent sharpening the country's sectarian and ethnic divides. In addition, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has said the pact should have national consensus. Passage by such a thin margin would highlight a failure to achieve the consensus that Maliki seeks.
But the intensity of political maneuvering among Iraqi factions contributed to deep uncertainty about the outcome of a vote scheduled for Wednesday that will determine the status of some 150,000 troops in Iraq after years of war. One Shiite lawmaker said that the government could only count on 139 MPs to vote for the measure, which would mean that it would just barely pass if most of the 275 MPs attended the session. If it does pass, it will pass with a simple majority and not consensus.
It has been reported awmakers arrived at the parliament building for the planned vote in a session scheduled for 7 a.m. EST, but the session did not begin at the appointed hour and the legislators waited for a new time to be set. Fearing insurgent attacks, the Iraqi army and police deployed additional forces around the parliament building and the Green Zone entrance leading to it.
If the pact is not passed by the end of next month, it would leave U.S. forces without legal standing to be in Iraq unless the U.N. mandate authorizing their presence was extended. The mandate expires Jan. 1.