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Iraqi lawmakers give US security pact the nod

The pact sets out a three-year timetable for US troop withdrawal. A public referendum on it will be held in July.

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For more than a year after he was first appointed Iraqi Foreign Minister in 2003, Hoshyar Zebari recalls, he was routinely stopped by junior American soldiers saying that he was not authorized to enter the Green Zone. "I'm the foreign minister!" he would tell them.

Thursday, as he prepared to celebrate Parliament's passage of an agreement that essentially transforms the US role from one of occupier to invited guest, he sees progress. "We've come a long, long way," says Mr. Zebari.

The historic pact, passed by 149 of Iraq's 275 parliamentarians, calls for America's 140,000 troops to pull back to bases outside Iraq's cities by next June and leave the country entirely within three years. But it also mandates a public referendum on the deal next July. If Iraqis reject it, US forces could be asked to leave much sooner than 2011.

The US and Iraq began negotiations more than a year ago on the so-called Status of Forces Agreement as well as a broader strategic framework governing US-Iraqi relations. With an insurgency still raging in parts of the country, the United States felt it had enough leverage to continue to demand unprecedented powers. Under rules imposed in 2003, for example, Iraq was the only country in the world where US contractors were exempt from local laws, US officials said.

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