A Popular Referendum on the U.S.-Iraq Basing Deal?
Following a dramatic period of inter-legislative acrimony, McClatchy is reporting that the Iraqi parliament has again delayed a vote on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The agreement forces all U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 2011, and removes them from Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009. That still isn’t good enough for many Sunnis and Sadr-supporting Shiites, who want the U.S. out way earlier — and so a striking compromise appears to be in the works.
According to the Associated Press, the Maliki government has brokered — or is close to brokering — a deal with recalcitrant Sunni lawmakers. They’d vote for the SOFA in exchange for the government hosting a popular referendum, through which Iraqis could directly vote to kick the U.S. out. It might be a feel-good message: the McClatchy story above implies that even if the referendum passes and voters can insist on an immediate withdrawal, that withdrawal wouldn’t take place for another year, since the vote couldn’t be held before July for reasons I don’t really understand and the SOFA guarantees a year’s grace notice to the U.S. in the event Iraq demands an early withdrawal.
So let’s say that happens. All of a sudden then you’ve got… full withdrawal in 18 months, just two months longer than Barack Obama proposed on the campaign trail, and a deeper withdrawal, since Obama always proposed a residual force of something like 30,000 troops. Interesting.
Whether it turns out like this is anyone’s guess. The AP and McClatchy stories also suggest that there’s all other manner of parliamentary maneuver, with the different Iraqi factions larding the SOFA with lots of other extraneous provisions. It’s unclear whether any of them endanger the SOFA’s passage. Perhaps greater clarity will come when the parliament reconvenes tomorrow, which, knowing my luck, will be shortly before kickoff in the Detroit-Tennessee game.