Humiliation: Iraqi MPs reject UK exit deal

Parliamentary vote on mandate for British forces could leave them without legal cover next month. Kim Sengupta in Basra and Brian Brady report

Britain's exit strategy from Iraq suffered a setback yesterday when the country's parliament rejected a draft law paving the way for withdrawal of forces by the end of July. The reversal was embarrassing for both Gordon Brown and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, after the two leaders publicly declared last week that an agreement had been reached on the pullout.

Foreign Office sources admitted that unless the law receives formal Iraqi approval by the end of this month, when the United Nations mandate for the occupation expires, the vote could lead to British troops being confined to base, because they would not have the legal authority to do anything else in Iraq. However, officials attempted to dampen speculation that the resolution could have such a dramatic impact, and insisted that the problem was "procedural".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have worked closely with the government of Iraq to ensure that there is a firm legal basis for the presence of our forces in 2009. We will now discuss with the government of Iraq what the vote in the Council of Representatives means for the proposed legal basis for the UK and other forces, and look at the options."

The possibility of British troops operating in a legal limbo from January was increased by Mr Maliki's refusal even to start talks with the UK until after the Iraqi parliament approved the US deal on 27 November. This reflected his anger at what he saw as Britain's surrender of Basra to Shia militias last year.

Early this month the Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton, warned: "I won't hesitate to pull [British forces] out. They have to be [legally] protected, and the way things stand at the moment they will not be." His Conservative shadow, Liam Fox, said the Iraqi vote "raises serious questions". If another vote failed, Britain would have to ensure alternative arrangements were in place by the end of the month.

The immediate effect of the vote by the MPs to reject the draft law by 80 votes to 68 is that the UK, Australia, Romania, Estonia, El Salvador and Nato would not technically have legal authority for any use of force in Iraq, even in self-defence, after the end of the month. Yesterday's was the first reading of the bill in the Council of Representatives, or parliament. It is now due to be sent back to Mr Maliki's cabinet for amendments, with another vote due next week. Some MPs want the law dropped and replaced with an international agreement similar to the deal with the US, which lays down the terms for its withdrawal of 140,000 troops from Iraq by 2011.

Nassir al-Issawi, an MP allied to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants foreign troops to leave at once, said: "What the parliament did today, rejecting the bill, was a great national achievement. We believe that British forces and all other forces should pack their things."

Fariad Rawndouzi, a Kurdish MP, said many of his colleagues were also unhappy with the formulation of the bill, and wanted it to resemble the "status of forces" agreement between the US and Iraq more closely.

Senior officers at the British base in Basra said a team of Foreign Office lawyers was negotiating with the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and they still hoped an agreement would be reached. One official said: "There was always a feeling that this may go to the wire, and we must realise that it is all quite symbolic." There were no plans to start pulling out British troops immediately in the new year.

But Mr Maliki's casual assurance to Mr Brown when he visited Iraq last week that all would be well may cause embarrassment to both sides. Hakim Ali Ibrahim, an Iraqi political analyst, said: "Parliament wants to make a stand to show it should not be taken for granted. Perhaps Maliki and Gordon Brown should not have made such a big thing out of this before they were certain everything would go through smoothly. We have elections coming up, and the government has to do deals with the MPs."

The provincial elections in January, the first held under sovereign, rather than occupation, laws, will be followed by a referendum on autonomy for Basra province, which could have a crucial impact on the division of its oil riches.

There are fears that the militias will attempt to use the polls to infiltrate the city again, and yesterday General Raymond Odierno, the US commander of coalition forces in Iraq, visited Basra for an election security meeting with Major General Andy Salmon, the British commander in Basra.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee