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Iraq to vote on security pact by Wednesday
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Iraqi lawmakers are expected to vote on a security agreement by Wednesday, which will keep the U.S. troops here until the end of 2011, the parliament's speaker said Saturday.

After hours of heated debate, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani announced that the vote is scheduled for Wednesday and can be put forward provided parties in the parliament would reach an agreement on the pact.

The long-delayed agreement passed the Iraqi cabinet last week and went to the parliament for reviewing. The vote date was originally set on Monday.

Although the Kurdish bloc and most of Shiites are in favor of the agreement, the party led by anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has vowed to scuttle it. Sadrist lawmakers have disrupted a previous debate and thousands of his supporters took to the streets on Friday to voice their opposition.

In addition, Iraq's Sunni politicians are also calling to put it to a referendum.

The security agreement will replace the UN mandate to grant U.S. military presence in Iraq legal status from 2009.

Iraq and the U.S. overshot a July deadline for inking the pact because disputes on issues regarded by Baghdad as vital to sovereignty.

The U.S. has agreed to pull troops out of Iraqi cities and towns by mid-2009 and leave Iraq by the end of 2011. It also allowed Iraqi authorities to try U.S. troops with conditions attached.

The Iraqi government wants the parliament to make the decision before lawmakers would set out for a pilgrimage trip to Mecca next week.

(Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2008)

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