BAGHDAD Iraq's parliament approved a measure on Tuesday that clears the way for troops from Britain, Australia and a handful of other nations to stay in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end, a senior lawmaker said.
A vote on the measure was delayed for several days by squabbling in the parliament, whose speaker resigned just before Tuesday's vote after angering some politicians with his brash style and insults in a session last week.
"We authorize the government to take all necessary steps regarding foreign forces other than U.S. forces," said deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiya. He said the measure approved would allow the troops to stay in Iraq through the end of July 2009.
Forces from Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Romania and Estonia and NATO have been awaiting a new arrangement to legalize their presence in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires in little over a week.
Lawmakers said the resolution empowered the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to strike a deal with these countries permitting their troops to stay, without that deal having to go back to parliament for further scrutiny.
"What happened today is parliament giving its authorization to the government to make such a deal," legislator Jaber Habeeb Jaber told Reuters.
He added parliament could do this because the likely agreement sought by the government would be a memorandum of understanding rather than a full blown pact or treaty.
On Saturday, parliament on technical grounds rejected a draft law that would have allowed Britain, Australia and other nations to carry out combat operations through May next year and to stay in Iraq through July.
Deputies argued that, rather than legislation, a treaty or agreement was needed, similar in format to a U.S.-Iraqi deal that allows the 140,000 troops in Iraq to remain until 2011.
The vote was then sidelined by the political storm that resulted in the resignation of parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab physician who emerged out of nowhere to lead the young Iraqi parliament in 2006.
Shi'ite and Kurd lawmakers had demanded that Mashhadani, a member of Iraq's largest Sunni bloc, resign. It remains to be seen who will replace him.
Officials from Britain, the main U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion, were making contingency plans in case lawmakers were unable to pass a proposal permitting them to stay.
Britain's 4,100 troops are posted mostly around the southern oil port city of Basra which, like most of Iraq, has become a much safer place in the past year as violence drops sharply.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed last week that his country would start pulling troops out by the end of May.
(Writing by Tim Cocks and Missy Ryan)