Congress Backs Timetable for U.S. Exit in Iraq -- The Iraqi Congress, That Is

By: A majority of Iraqi lawmakers endorsed a draft bill calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and demanding a freeze on the number already in the country, lawmakers said Thursday.

The legislation was being discussed even as U.S. lawmakers were locked in a dispute with the White House over their call to start reducing the size of the U.S. force in the coming months.

The proposed Iraqi legislation, drafted by the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 members of the 275-member house, said Nassar al-Rubaie, the leader of the Sadrist bloc.

The Sadrist bloc, which holds 30 parliamentary seats and sees the U.S.-led forces as an occupying army, has pushed similar bills before, but this was the first time it garnered the support of a majority of lawmakers.

The bill would require the Iraqi government to seek approval from parliament before it requests an extension of the U.N. mandate for foreign forces to be in Iraq, al-Rubaie said. It also calls for a timetable for the troop withdrawal and a freeze on the size of the foreign forces.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in November to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led forces until the end of 2007. The resolution, however, said the council "will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."

The measure, which has not yet been introduced in parliament, reflects growing disenchantment among the lawmakers over U.S. involvement in Iraq and the government's failure to curb the violence.

Ali al-Adeeb, a senior Shiite lawmaker and an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, questioned the wisdom of asking foreign forces to leave when Iraqi forces were not ready to take full responsibility for security in the country.

"Their withdrawal will not benefit anyone if our forces are not ready," said al-Adeeb, who said he did not back the bill. "There must be a commitment from foreign parties to train our forces."

Al-Rubaie said he personally handed the Iraqi bill to speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani on Wednesday.

Deputy Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told The Associated Press said the draft legislation had not been officially submitted to the speaker, but was currently being reviewed by the house's legal department, apparently the final step before it can be submitted.

Al-Rubaie said al-Mashhadani had a week to schedule a debate on the bill before he would use the majority that backs it to force one.

However, his majority might be shaky.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said he had backed the draft only on the condition that the withdrawal timetable be linked to a schedule for training and equipping Iraq's security forces.

"But the sponsors of the legislation did not include our observations in the draft. This is deception," he said.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, has been blamed in much of the recent sectarian violence against Sunnis and has been one of the main targets of a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

Last month, the cleric ordered his six Cabinet ministers to leave the government after the Shiite prime minister refused to put a timetable for foreign troops withdrawal.


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