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US-Iraq SOFA: Majority support may not be enough

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19 November 2008 13:26

Iraq is one step closer to regaining its sovereignty and seeing the complete withdrawal of Coalition troops. This week, the Iraqi cabinet overwhelmingly approved a Status of Armed Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US, ending nervous speculation that Iraqi lawmakers would let the 31 December deadline pass in favour of a renegotiating with a new US president. As usual in Iraqi politics, a resolution was reached in the nick of time and after tortured to and fro over the conditions. 

The approved draft calls for a 3-year timetable for withdrawal — meaning all troops must be out by 2011. This is a serious US concession. The Bush Administration repeatedly rejected strict timetables and insisted on complete command of its operations, control over Iraq’s borders, extrajudicial jurisdiction over its troops and detention of Iraqi citizens. In the final agreement, the US gets none of those things, leading many analysts to speculate that the 'client state' relationship between Iraq and the US is over.

The SOFA must pass through one final hurdle before its final passage. It must be approved by a  majority in the Iraqi parliament. Though Iraqi lawmakers who support the agreement are confident they have the numbers, there is reluctance to present it to parliament without a national consensus on the agreement. 

Sadrist lawmakers object to the pact in principle; they want US troops out of Iraq sooner rather than three years from now. And ironically, Sunni parties, the Coalition's erstwhile foes, are reluctant to see Coalition troops draw down for fear that Iraq succumbs to Iranian influence. Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's pre-eminent Shia cleric, has offered his tacit approval for the document, but he too states that all elements of Iraqi society must approve of the security agreement for it to succeed. 

Iraq has learned hard lessons from the past. Many seminal political agreements in Iraq's short post-Saddam history — the Iraqi constitution, elections timetables, provincial powers agreements — have passed by majority vote but have come back to haunt Iraq in the form of stubborn opposition and insurgency because key segments of Iraqi society did not approve of them. Ayatollah Sistani and other Iraqi lawmakers do not want the SOFA to suffer the same fate, as it is the best possible agreement that guarantees Iraq a significant say over US military operations in the coming three years and a final goodbye at the end. 

Photo by Flickr user MATEUS, used under a Creative Commons license.

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