Iraq Bill Demands U.S. Troop Withdraw

A majority of Iraqi lawmakers have endorsed a bill calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and demanding a freeze on the number of foreign troops already in the country, lawmakers said Thursday.

The legislation was being debated even as U.S. lawmakers were locked in a dispute with the White House over their call to start reducing the size of the U.S. force here in the coming months.

The Iraqi bill, drafted by a parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 members of the 275-member house, according to Nassar al-Rubaie, the leader of the Sadrist bloc.

The Sadrist bloc, which sees the U.S.-led forces as an occupying army, has pushed similar bills before, but this was the first time it had garnered the support of a majority of lawmakers.

The bill would require the Iraqi government to seek approval from parliament before it requests an extension of the U.N. mandate for foreign forces to be in Iraq, al-Rubaie said. It also calls for a timetable for the troop withdrawal and a freeze on the size of the foreign forces.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in November to extend the U.S.-led forces' mandate until the end of 2007. The resolution, however, said the council "will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."

Al-Rubaie said he personally handed the Iraqi bill to speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani on Wednesday.

Deputy Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told The Associated Press the draft legislation had not been officially submitted to the speaker, but was currently being reviewed by the house's legal department, apparently the final step before it can be submitted.

Al-Rubaie said al-Mashhadani had a week to schedule a debate on the bill before he would use the majority that backs it to force a debate.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, has been blamed in much of the recent sectarian violence against Sunnis and has been one of the main targets of a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

Last month, the cleric ordered his six Cabinet ministers to leave the government after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to put a timetable for foreign troops withdrawal.