A session of Iraq's Parliament collapsed in chaos on Wednesday, as a discussion among lawmakers about a three-year security agreement with the Americans boiled over into shouting and physical confrontation.
The session was dedicated to a second public reading of the agreement, which governs the presence of American troops in Iraq through 2011 and which the Parliament is scheduled to vote on Monday. Even before the session began, legislators were apprehensive.
“There is much tension inside the parliament,” said Iman al-Asadi, a Shiite lawmaker, shortly before the session was scheduled to start. “We worry that they will fight each other inside the room.”
Lawmakers who support the pact said they were worried in particular about the followers of the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who make up a bloc of 32 legislators in the 275 member Parliament.
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While there are those in Parliament, like many Sunnis, who have objections to elements of the pact, the Sadrists reject any agreement with the Americans in principle.
In a departure from protocol, security guards were present in the room, both because of the tension and because several Iraqi government officials, including the ministers of foreign affairs and finance, were in attendance to answer questions about the agreement.
Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign affairs minister, said the guards were unarmed.
As soon as the session began, politicians in opposition to the pact stood up in the hall and volubly argued that the ratification process was unconstitutional, because a law governing the passage of international agreements has not been ratified. Supporters say such a law is unnecessary, because Parliament had already approved numerous agreements without one.
The shouting ended shortly after many of the legislators involved marched off to their offices.
There was uncertainty as to what would happen today, when parliament tries again for the second reading. Several blocs threatened to boycott parliament until an investigation takes place, while other lawmakers vowed that anyone who tried to disrupt the session would be forcibly removed. There was also uncertainty as to whether the agreement can be voted on before the middle of next week, when many legislators may go on the Hajj pilgrimage.