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Iraq’s speaker quits under pressure

The Iraqi parliament approved a security agreement Tuesday allowing British troops and other non-U.S. foreign forces to stay after a United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.

The vote followed the resignation of the volatile parliament speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani, who had offered to quit his post last week when lawmakers loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr refused to discuss the agreement.

Many had written off Mashadani’s gesture as part of the parliament’s often-chaotic operations. Mashadani, a Sunni, later retracted his offer. But Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers said he had insulted parliament and insisted that he quit.

In exchange for Mashadani’s resignation, Shiites and Kurds agreed that another lawmaker from the main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, could be named to replace him. And they agreed to vote on the security pact -- after Mashadani agreed to quit.

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Then they publicly praised him for his role presiding over parliament since the spring of 2006 and called his resignation an administrative matter.

Even some of Mashadani’s own coalition hoped parliament would be run in a more orderly manner after the departure of the voluble speaker.

Mashadani, who remains a member of parliament, was a controversial figure throughout his tenure as speaker.

Sunni lawmakers said he had vowed to change his behavior in the summer of 2007, when his bodyguards allegedly beat up a Shiite lawmaker after a verbal altercation. He was briefly dismissed over the incident and then reinstated.

“He was rough with everyone. He used vulgar language and was directing insults at everyone without any exceptions. The blocs found that this phenomenon was too frequent and that it was not acceptable,” said Salim Abdullah Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, of which Mashadani is a member.

Mashadani also praised Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi, who rocketed to fame a week ago when he hurled his shoes at President Bush at a Baghdad news conference. Zaidi is scheduled for trial Dec. 31.

After Mashadani resigned, parliament quickly approved the security agreement, which calls for all British troops to withdraw by July 31. The date fits with the announcement made last week by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that British military operations in southern Iraq would end by May 31 and that a full withdrawal would be finished two months later.

Britain welcomed the pact, an embassy spokesman said, adding that Britain was prepared to leave 400 officers to train the Iraqi navy if asked to.

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The agreement also applies to the other remaining non-U.S. foreign forces. One of the countries covered, El Salvador, announced Tuesday that its 200 troops would be withdrawn after Dec. 31. Out of more than three dozen countries that joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, only Albania, Estonia and Australia will remain.

The accord also covers the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Italy, a NATO member, is providing military police training to Iraqi security forces.

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ned.parker@latimes.com

Hameed is a special correspondent.


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