BAGHDAD — In a country where agreements are hard to reach, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki built a broad political coalition to muscle through a divisive U.S.-Iraq security pact that could set his place in his nation's history as the man who ended the American occupation.
He took the mantle of a nationalist in televised remarks Thursday night after the pact he helped broker passed the Iraqi Parliament by a landslide 149-35 vote.
"We have gotten an important achievement by signing the withdrawal agreement for the foreign troops from Iraq and bringing back its sovereignty," he said.
That's a major role change for Maliki, who came to power in 2006 as a sectarian Shiite lawmaker propped up by a tenuous coalition of political blocs. He has taken an increasingly assertive role as Iraq's leader since March, when he launched a military offensive in Basra against Shiite militias loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Maliki put his fingerprints all over the U.S. security agreement, condemning early drafts as unsatisfactory to telegraph his toughness to the Iraqi people in the spring and summer.
He changed course and endorsed the deal only two weeks ago, when he said the Americans had met most of his demands, including ones Washington was reluctant to yield ground on, such as setting a timetable for the American withdrawal and giving Iraqis more authority over U.S. military operations here.
"Prime Minister Maliki drove an extremely tough bargain," said Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who worked closely with Gen. David Petraeus in implementing the surge strategy.
Maliki "had to, given that any agreement that kept American troops in Iraq, even for a defined period of time, was going to be looked at skeptically by the people in Iraq," said Mansoor, now a professor of military history at Ohio State University.
Maliki's supporters call the pact an unmitigated victory for the prime minister.