Baghdad agrees to extend non-US troop presence
British commanders in Iraq breathed a sigh of relief last night when the parliament in Baghdad approved a deal that would allow their troops to stay on until next summer.
An overwhelming number of MPs voted in favour of giving legal status to British troops until the end of July, after the resignation of the Speaker broke a political deadlock that had paralysed parliament.
“This project got a majority of votes. We authorise the Government to take all necessary steps regarding foreign forces other than US forces,” Khalid al-Attiya, the deputy parliamentary Speaker, said.
A UN resolution dating from 2003 that authorised the presence of British forces runs out on January 1 and failure to approve a new agreement would have limited troops to their bases and most likely led to immediate withdrawal.
Under the new deal, all non-American troops will begin to withdraw in May and be gone within three months, while the US has until 2011 to withdraw.
Yesterday’s vote followed days of high drama in the Iraqi parliament. MPs refused to approve the troop deal until the Speaker had resigned. Mahmud Mashhadani had offended them during an earlier session, creating a political crisis that threatened to engulf thousands of foreign troops.
A week ago Mr Mashhadani lost his temper in the chamber, branding some MPs “sons of dogs”. On Monday he lashed out again, telling Kurdish MPs: “It is not you who decide my fate in Baghdad. Go back to Arbil \.”
By yesterday afternoon, the pressure on him had become overwhelming. He agreed to resign, saying: “What happened in the last session was a slip of the tongue, and what I wanted to say was in the interests of the people. But the anger I felt, God did not give me the power to control myself.”
He added: “My excuse to you is I spent 35 hard years of my life moving from one prison to another. If I have hurt you, please excuse me. I apologise for my shortcomings.”
During a visit to Iraq last week, Gordon Brown announced that only 400 troops would remain in the country after July, mainly as trainers. There are currently 4,100 British troops in Iraq, concentrated around Basra airport in the south.