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Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Iraq delays vote on US withdrawal

US soldiers in Iraq (file photo)
Under the deal, US troops will withdraw in full within three years

The Iraqi parliament has delayed until Thursday a crucial vote on a plan to withdraw all US troops from the country by the end of 2011.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said agreement had been reached on all points under discussion except one, but gave no further details.

The Shia-led government says it is confident the vote will pass but needs backing from the main Sunni parties.

Under the plan, US troops will be off the streets by the middle of next year.

They will be banned from carrying out certain raids without Iraqi permission.

Referendum demand

The parliament convened briefly on Wednesday afternoon after hours of negotiations to announce that the vote would be delayed until 1000 local time (0700 GMT) on Thursday.

"The general atmosphere indicates there will be an agreement, the leaders have agreed on all the points under discussion except for one," Mr Mashhadani said, quoted by AFP news agency.

The Sunni MPs are negotiating for a greater presence in the security forces and in the government in general, as well as demanding that a referendum be held some months after the vote goes through.

Correspondents say that, while the government has accepted the referendum, political groups are seizing the opportunity to trade their support for concessions on other issues.

The Iraqi government is hailing this watershed parliamentary session as the prelude to the return of full sovereignty to the country.

The plan to withdraw US troops by the end of 2011 took a year of negotiations with the Americans.

It has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet.

Crucial to the agreement are the minority Sunni MPs whose support is needed to create a sense of national consensus.

Opposition also comes from a hard-line Shia party, the Sadrists, who say US troops must leave by the end of this year.

They also want Iraq's political balance re-negotiated to give more of a role to religious clerics.

The mainstream Shia and Kurdish parties already provide nearly all the 138 votes needed in the 275 seat parliament, but even the government says it will not consider victory unless it has a large majority that includes the Sunnis.

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