BAGHDAD – The Iraqi parliament approved a security agreement Tuesday allowing British troops and other non-U.S. foreign forces to stay when a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.
The vote followed the resignation of the volatile parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who had offered to quit his post last week when lawmakers loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr refused to discuss the agreement.
Many had written off al-Mashhadani’s gesture as a reaction to the parliament’s often-chaotic operations. Al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, later retracted his offer. But Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers said he had insulted parliament and insisted he quit.
In exchange for al-Mashhadani’s resignation, Shiites and Kurds agreed that another lawmaker from the main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, could be named to replace him. And they agreed to vote on the security pact – but only after al-Mashhadani had agreed to quit.
Then, they publicly praised him for his role presiding over parliament since spring 2006, and called his resignation an administrative matter.
Even some of al-Mashhadani’s own coalition hoped the parliament would be run in a more orderly manner after the departure of the voluble speaker.
Al-Mashhadani, who remains a member of parliament, was a controversial figure throughout his tenure as speaker.
Sunni lawmakers said he had vowed to reform his behavior in summer 2007, when his bodyguards allegedly beat up a Shiite lawmaker following a verbal altercation. He was briefly dismissed over the incident, then reinstated.
“He was rough with everyone. He used vulgar language and was directing insults at everyone without any exceptions. The blocs found that this phenomenon was too frequent and that it was not acceptable,” explained Selim Abdullah Jabouri, the spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, of which al-Mashhadani is a member.
Following the speaker’s resignation, parliament quickly approved the security agreement which calls for all British troops to withdraw by July 31. The date fits with the announcement made by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week that British military operations in southern Iraq would be completed by May 31 and a full withdrawal would be finished two months later.
Britain welcomed the pact, said embassy spokesman Jawwad Syed, adding Britain was prepared to leave 400 officers to train the Iraqi navy, if the Iraqi government requests it.
The agreement applies also to the other remaining non-U.S. foreign forces, including NATO.