BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling Shiite coalition withheld support Sunday for the proposed security pact that would keep U.S. troops here for three more years, dealing a setback to American hopes of a speedy approval of the agreement.
The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance called for unspecified changes to the draft agreement, which parliament must ratify by the end of the year when the U.N. mandate expires.
The group’s move comes a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators, mostly Shiites, took to the streets of Baghdad to show their opposition to the agreement.
The Shiite alliance holds 85 of parliament’s 275 seats, and al-Maliki needs solid support from the alliance to win approval of the agreement by a strong majority.
The 30 lawmakers loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have already said they will vote against the agreement, and some Sunni lawmakers have spoken out against it too.
In its statement, the alliance said the agreement, hammered out in months of difficult negotiations, contained some “positive points” but more time was needed “for discussion, dialogue and to amend some of its articles.”
The alliance established a committee to solicit views and study the agreement in detail, the statement added. Al-Maliki aide Yassin Majid said Sunday that the prime minister had postponed a planned visit this week to Australia to deal with the security agreement.
The alliance did not specify what it considered positive or negative, and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned it would be difficult to reopen negotiations.
The agreement provides for American troops to leave Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country entirely by the end of 2011 unless the government asks them to stay.
It would also give Iraq limited authority to prosecute U.S. soldiers and contractors for crimes committed off post and off duty, limit U.S. authority to search homes and detain people and give Iraqis more say in the conduct of American military operations.
Al-Maliki aide Sami al-Askari said that several members of the alliance wanted to remove language allowing the government to ask any Americans to stay beyond the end of 2011.
He also said some members wanted to know who would decide whether crimes committed by Americans met the standard for Iraqi trials.