SOFA gets through door more easily than expected
Like, perhaps, some holiday get-togethers, the Iraqi parliament’s long-awaited vote on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the U.S. turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic. From Reuters:
Iraq’s parliament on Thursday approved a landmark security pact with the United States that paves the way for U.S. forces to withdraw by the end of 2011, taking the country a big step closer to full sovereignty.
The deal, which parliament linked to a series of promised political reforms and a public referendum next year, brings in sight an end to the U.S. military presence that began with the 2003 invasion.
. . . Lawmakers in Iraq’s 275 seat parliament passed the deal with 149 MPs out of 198 present voting.
. . . “The withdrawal, theoretically, is completed at the end of December 2011, but we are expectant and hopeful that we could achieve that earlier,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
In an article before the vote, Reuters noted what a victory this is for the Iraqi government:
. . . the deal gives Iraq formal authority over the U.S. presence for the first time, replacing a U.N. security council mandate. U.S. troops must quit Iraqi towns and villages by the middle of next year, then leave Iraq within three years.
That will greatly strengthen the hand of Maliki and his Shi’ite-led government, which will continue to enjoy the benefits of U.S. military backing whilst scoring nationalist points for being the ones who ushered it out.
Conversely, today’s vote seems to marginalize the Sadrists, who have staked their claim to popularity on opposing the occupation, but were left helplessly (if entertainingly at times) on the sidelines as Maliki negotiated its end. And the Sunnis in the legislature weren’t left with much, either, as Reidar Visser relates:
The developments in the Iraqi parliament today very much went in the direction Maliki wanted them to go, even if the opposition managed to create at least a degree of friction . . . today’s package of legislation is sadly reminiscent of many of the deals that have been cut with the Maliki government since 2006: it bestows ample privileges on the Iraqi government in return for promises of reform that are both vague and without a clearly defined timeline.
Even the one tangible concession — that of a public referendum on the agreement sometime in mid-2009 — is less than meets the eye. Spencer Ackerman did the math yesterday and explained that given the six-month lag time and the one-year notice required for cancelling the agreement, a withdrawal forced by the referendum failing would basically match the timeline proposed by Barack Obama (and endorsed by the Iraqi government). So Maliki & Co. get what they want either way… as usual.