Thursday's agreement replaces UN Security Council authorization for the US presence here, which has been renewed at Iraq's request every year since after former President Saddam Hussein was toppled in the 2003 US invasion. When the current mandate ends Dec. 31, Iraq will no longer officially be considered a threat to international peace and security for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The debate in parliament over the past week shined a spotlight on Iraq's boisterous, burgeoning democracy, forged against the backdrop of continuing violence and the destruction wrought by five years of war. It also highlighted fractures in Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's governing coalition.
One of the sessions ended with some lawmakers fleeing the chamber as a member of the political bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr tussled with one of the foreign minister's Kurdish bodyguards. On Thursday, members of the Sadr bloc, which oppose any agreement with the US and boycotted the vote, tried to disrupt the proceedings by banging on desks and chanting "No, no to the occupiers."
"I'm not happy about all the practices of all our parliament or discipline or commitment or see the value of what they are doing, but on this issue I think it shows to other countries that there is real freedom in Iraq, of speech, of expression … people feeling that they have a role in deciding the future of this country, " says Zebari.
The agreement was ratified by Prime Minister Malaki's cabinet earlier this month, but needed the approval of a simple majority of the 275-member cabinet. It was held up by a last-minute demand by Sunni parties, backed by Kurdish and some Shiite lawmakers, for a series of political reforms.
"This is one of the most important votes we've ever taken on Iraq's future," says Ali Maki, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the major Sunni bloc that pressed for concessions from the Shiite-led government in exchange for its support.