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Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Deal

November 27, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Iraq's parliament approved Thursday a security pact with the United States that outlines the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011 and may mark a new turn toward Iraqi sovereignty. A reporter in Baghdad discusses the next steps with Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the Iraqi parliament approves a security agreement that outlines the mission of U.S. troops in that country. We get more from Alyssa Rubin of the New York Times. She spoke with me a short time ago from Baghdad.

Alissa, thank you for joining us. I know it’s very late where you are. There are two parts to this agreement, and you wrote today this is a “watershed.” What did you mean?

ALISSA RUBIN, New York Times: Clearly, it’s a very, very important agreement, both for Iraq and for the United States, in the sense that it really sets the course for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, for all U.S. troops, and that’s an enormous step.

America invaded Iraq five years ago, almost five-and-a-half years ago now, and this really sets the course for withdrawal, and it looks like this will actually happen, which, of course, has been part of a major debate in the United States.

But also for Iraq, it’s been an enormously controversial, the American presence here. Most Iraqis think of it as a continuing occupation.

And so, for them, this really signals a period of full sovereignty, and that was exactly what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said tonight. You know, this begins our period of full sovereignty. It’s a very proud day for Iraq.

So that’s a very important part of the agreement. A second part of it really spoke to internal Iraqi politics. To get the votes together, what the leadership and parliament had to do was to add a couple of other measures to the security agreement.

And there was also a requirement for a referendum on the security agreement, which is kind of a way both — for Iraqi parliament members to gain some political cover, some approbation from their constituents, but also a kind of check on anything going wrong with the agreement in the first months or any overstepping.

There’s a feeling that this is a way — you know, if people were to reject it, well, that would be very complicated, and this will be a way of ensuring that the Americans abide by the pact and the Iraqis abide by the pact.

Agreement faced some opposition

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alissa, in the end, who was for it and who was against it?

ALISSA RUBIN: In the final vote, actually, a very surprisingly small number was against the security agreement. It was about 35 votes that they counted out of roughly 200 people who were there. It's not the most formalized method of counting who's present, so it's a little bit hard to tell.

But you had basically all of the Shiite bloc, with the exception of Muqtada al-Sadr's contingent, which has been consistently anti-American and anti the pact, and another group, somewhat allied with them, but really they objected on sort of more legalistic sort of grounds, called Fidela.

So you had a group of Shiites against it, and then you had some of the sort of rejectionist Sunnis who've been very hard-line. Some of them come out of the -- have their roots in Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party. And they also were very strongly opposed.

But it was a relatively small number. Most Sunnis, the majority of the Sunnis voted for it, and, of course, the Kurds also backed the pact.

Some skepticism about withdrawal

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, what do you expect the popular reaction to be, how much opposition or support on the part of the public?

ALISSA RUBIN: I think, for the most part, there will be mild support. There's still -- interestingly, we've canvassed a lot of people around the country today and really heard almost disbelief in a number of cases that the Americans will leave.

There's just the belief that, you know, America came here for oil, and that they haven't yet gotten their oil, and so they're not going to leave, and that they lost a lot of lives here of American men and women, and why would they go until they've somehow gotten more out of it?

But I think that's very much, obviously, an Iraqi view of things. And they're still absorbing what the pact means. And it also is -- it varies somewhat throughout the country.

But I think there will be mild support. And then, in certain areas, where, for instance, Muqtada al-Sadr is a strong force, you'll see quite a bit of protest and sort of outrage about it, but I don't think that will be the widespread view.

Daily troop presence to decrease

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally and just quickly, what will change on the ground in Iraq as a result of this?

ALISSA RUBIN: Well, I think what will really change will be fairly subtle and people won't be aware of it at first, but Americans will have to get court orders in order to do detentions. They will have to make an agreement with Iraqi forces each time they do an operation.

There will be a much more tethered relationship of the American military to the Iraqi military. And I think you'll see that, that effect will sort of emerge over the first couple of months as they get the mechanisms in place for carrying it out.

And then, by the middle of the summer, Americans are going to be out of the cities and towns. They'll be on bases. They'll still be able to come in, of course, for patrols or to help do raids, but they will not be a daily presence on the street in Iraqi cities and towns.

And that will be a very noticeable difference, I think, which will really become clear by probably beginning of the late spring or early summer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Alissa Rubin of the New York Times, staying up very late for us tonight in Baghdad, thank you. We appreciate it.

ALISSA RUBIN: Thank you.