Compromise in Iraq on non-US foreign troops


IRAQ'S PARLIAMENT yesterday reached a compromise over a deal extending the mandate of non-US foreign troops deployed in Iraq.

Deputies agreed to regard the measure as a parliamentary resolution rather than a law, enabling adoption by a simple majority of assembly members present.

The arrangement enables the ruling Shia and Kurdish coalition to circumvent strong opposition to the proposed Bill from the faction loyal to dissident Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Parliament is expected to vote in favour of the resolution today.

On Saturday parliament voted against the cabinet-approved Bill extending the presence of 4,100 British troops and 2,000 soldiers from half a dozen other countries and Nato.

Without such a measure, these troops, not covered by the status of forces agreement reached with the US, would have no legal standing in Iraq and would be banned from conducting operations and confined to bases until they could be withdrawn from the country.

Under this deal, these troops would remain on mission until May 29th and depart by the end of July.

Some 400 British personnel would stay on to train the fledgling Iraqi navy.

Meanwhile, two-dozen officers from the Iraqi interior ministry detained by order of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki were freed after an investigating judge ordered their release.

He declared them "innocent" of charges that they were seeking to restore the rule of the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Maliki also denied the officers were plotting against the regime. "People who speak about a coup have illusions. The officers have a patriotic spirit and are far from this nonsense," he said.

Iraqi interior minister Jawad al-Bolani, who was abroad when the arrests took place, said the charges were politically motivated by elements trying to undermine the interior ministry.

Some deputies argued that Mr Maliki ordered the detentions to intimidate ministry staff ahead of the January 31st provincial polls.

Meanwhile, the family of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at US president George W Bush during a Baghdad press conference, continued a 24-hour vigil near the prison where he is being held and a judge confirmed he had been beaten about the head during his arrest.

The journalist faces two years in prison for assaulting a visiting head of state. The case goes to court this week.