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On brink of vote, Iraqi parliament makes new demands

Landmark agreement on US troops is delayed as lawmakers seek more checks on Shiite-led government

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Iraqi lawmakers Wednesday came close to voting on a landmark deal that would set a withdrawal date for US troops but instead called for last-minute reforms in exchange for their support on the security pact.

The demands, which could delay the vote to determine the future role of American forces in Iraq by one day or as much as several months, centered around fears that Iraq's Shiite-led government would become too powerful when American forces leave.

Sunni lawmakers also said that their new stipulations, formulated just Tuesday, stemmed from discontent over growing Iranian influence across Iraq and a belief that a new administration in Washington may not honor the terms of the deal, which requires US forces to pull back to their bases next June and depart Iraq altogether in 2011.

"Bush will leave and Obama will take over – I think this is a strategic decision that the Bush government cannot make," says Omar Abdul Sattar of the Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament and a key player in passing any agreement.

Clutching the 19-page Status of Forces Agreement, Dr. Abdul Sattar echoed a widely held sentiment here that undermines almost any debate on the agreement.

"I don't think the American troops will ever withdraw," he says. "Please understand me – the Iranian infiltration has entered our souls, our bodies, our education, our beliefs.... and it happened under the umbrella of the United States."


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