Iraq delays vote on troops exit over shoe row

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The Independent Online

The ratification of the agreement underpinning Britain's exit strategy from Iraq was delayed once again when the parliament in Baghdad became embroiled in a row over shoes being thrown at President George Bush instead of voting on the issue.

The MPs had rejected on Saturday a draft law proposed by the Iraqi government under which the UK, and a number of other countries (not including the US), would cease military operations by 31 May and withdraw all but a handful of its forces of 4,100 by the end of July.

It had been expected that a compromise would lead to the draft law being passed today. But, instead, a number of MPs insisted that the British withdrawal could not be discussed until matters were resolved over the action of the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, over the 14 December shoe-throwing incident.

The speaker had repeatedly clashed with a number of MPs during a debate on the arrest of the journalist Muntasar al-Zaidi who faces a possible 15 year jail sentence for throwing his shoes at President Bush during a news conference. His trial is due to be held on 31 December.

The delay in addressing the issue of the foreign forces may mean that the matter may now be put off until after Christmas with parliament adjourning on Wednesday. Iraqi officials said they would try to get the voting settled before the adjournment but that could prove impossible until the affair of the speaker and shoe throwing is resolved.

Iraqi and British officials say they are confident that the draft law would be passed by parliament after a number of amendments. Contingency plans have been drawn up, however, for American troops, who are replacing the UK contingent in Basra, to be sent early in the event of a stalemate.

Last week, during a flying visit to Iraq, Gordon Brown announced that agreement had been reached on a timetable for withdrawal with premier Nouri al-Maliki. Many MPs are said to have been annoyed that the agreement was presented as a fait accompli before the required legislation had been debated in parliament.