THE United States got the Iraq democracy it has always said it wanted yesterday when the Iraq parliament voted to approve the agreement that prime minister al-Maliki had negotiated for a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces. The vote in favour was 149 to 47 of those present - but almost 100 members of the parliament were absent, among them almost certainly the followers of the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who wants the Americans out by the end of this year.

The parliamentary vote now has to be ratified by the three members of the presidency council. The agreement represents an amazing climb-down by the United States: its soldiers will have to be off Iraq's streets by June of next year prior to leaving completely by 31 December 2011 and Iraqi legal jurisdiction will apply to US troops and contracted civilians. President Bush has, in effect, agreed to the time-table for withdrawal that he always resisted and has given away the idea that the agreement should be conditional on the progress that Iraq makes in maintaining security with its own resources. The agreement even includes a clause that while US forces remain on Iraq soil they must not use it as a base for attacks on neighbouring countries - Iran, of course. In Washington it has been said that President-elect Obama has nodded this agreement through.