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Iraqi pact chances ‘50-50’

Officials struggle to rally support for agreement, but government’s hopes fading.

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi parliament will vote Wednesday on a pact that would allow American troops to stay in Iraq for three more years, but the government’s hopes of winning a wide margin of approval to ensure the deal’s legitimacy appeared to be fading.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his top ministers struggled Saturday to rally support for the pact, arguing that Iraqi security forces aren’t ready to stand on their own. A U.N. mandate for the American troop presence expires Dec. 31, and U.S. military operations would have to stop immediately without a new mandate or the legal cover of the pact being considered by parliament.

The defense minister warned that losing the protection of the U.S. Navy could even bring piracy to Persian Gulf waters like that preying on international shipping off the African nation of Somalia.

The vote originally was planned for Monday, but Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani announced the new date after six hours of speeches by lawmakers closed out this week’s debate on the pact.

Al-Mashhadani said the vote could be held earlier than Wednesday if the Shiite-led governing coalition and other political groups reached an understanding, but that seemed unlikely after days of contentious debate and even some scuffling among legislators.

The speaker, a Sunni Arab, rated chances for the pact’s passage at “50-50.”

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