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Iraqi lawmakers give US security pact the nod

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A year of tough negotiations with an increasingly confident Iraqi government resulted in an agreement more in line with security pacts with other countries. Now, Iraq may prosecute coalition contractors and soldiers for crimes committed off-base and off-duty. It also must approve U.S. military operations.

"This points us to a future more toward sovereignty, independence, and national political will," says Zebari, who was the chief negotiator of the pact.

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."

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