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Iraqi legislators led by followers of a radical Shi'ite cleric passed a resolution Tuesday requiring the government to seek parliamentary permission for asking the United Nations to extend the mandate of US-led forces in Iraq.
The measure was approved along party lines, with Sunnis joining the bloc loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and another disaffected Shi'ite party to support it, and Shi'ite and Kurdish backers of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in opposition.
The UN mandate for foreign forces in Iraq has been extended for a year through Dec. 31 at al-Maliki's request, so the parliamentary action was not expected to have any immediate effect. But it reflected growing disenchantment with the US-backed government as Iraq's fractured parties jockey for power amid calls for US forces to withdraw.
"If the government wants to extend the presence of the multinational forces, it has to come to us in the parliament to convince us first," said the Sunni parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.
The effort mirrors US President George W. Bush's rivalry with the Democratic-led Congress, which has urged the administration to begin bringing American troops home.
The UN Security Council voted on Nov. 28 to extend the mandate of the multinational force through the end of next year, although it also authorized a review of the mandate by June 15 or earlier if requested by the Iraqi government. It also contained the same provision as past resolutions - a commitment that the council "will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."
The Shi'ite prime minister has said he wants Iraqi forces to take over the country's security but he has refused to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
"I think the situation is clear ... when the Iraqi troops are ready and can control the country, the government will ask the multinational forces to leave," said one of his aides, George Bakus.
The Sadrist-drafted resolution passed with a vote of 85 to 59. Only 144 of the 275 members of the Iraqi parliament were present but that was enough for a quorum.
Sunni political leader Adnan Dulaimi raised his hand as his Sunni Accordance Front supported the measure, along with the Sadrists and members of the Fadhila party, which recently withdrew from the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance.
"This was the first step in implementing our political goal which is the withdrawal of the occupation forces," Sadrist lawmaker Nassir al-Issawi said.
Those opposed included Kurdish legislators and members of other mainstream Shi'ite parties, including al-Maliki's Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.
Prominent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman objected to the resolution and said during the session that "it is supposed that extension of the mandate of the forces should go with completing building the Iraqi forces."
Jalaluddin al-Saghir, a Shi'ite cleric and a lawmaker from the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq said the resolution was an additional obstacle for the government as it works to quell the sectarian violence in Iraq.
"The government was at least supposed to be consulted before such a resolution was approved," he said. "Those who voted for the resolution had political aims."
Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia battled the US military in 2004, recently resurfaced after going underground at the start of a US-Iraq security crackdown.
His bloc also has spearheaded a draft bill calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and demanding a freeze on the number already in the country, and the cleric withdrew his support from al-Maliki and ordered his six Cabinet ministers to leave the government due to the refusal to impose a timetable on US-led forces.
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