Iraq VP proposes referendum on U.S. security pact

BAGHDAD Tue Nov 4, 2008 12:25pm EST

1 of 3. A U.S soldier speaks with Iraqi children as he patrols Baquba, in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, November 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An agreement allowing U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for three years should be put to the public in a referendum, Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president said on Tuesday.

The pact, which will govern the U.S. presence in Iraq after a mandate from the U.N. Security Council expires at year's end, "must not pass without approval from Iraqis," Tareq al-Hashemi, who is one of Iraq's two vice presidents, said in a statement."

"This agreement is an important and sensitive subject ... Iraqis should have their say."

A popular vote on the agreement has not been widely discussed. The government is committed to enacting the pact through a vote in parliament, where passage may be difficult because many lawmakers have close ties to Shi'ite Iran, a staunch opponent of the pact.

U.S. and Iraqi officials are rushing to find a final consensus on the pact, which is now months behind schedule. If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, Iraq says it will seek an extension to the U.N. mandate.

Iraq's government appeared close to sending the agreement to parliament for approval last month until Baghdad before suddenly requesting amendments, including a clearer definition of when its courts can prosecute U.S. troops.

A reply from Washington is expected within days, and the government has said that if a final text is agreed it will swiftly seek a vote in parliament.

An aide to Hashemi said that the vice president, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, was proposing that a referendum question be included in provincial elections scheduled to take place by the end of January.

(Reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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