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Much Remains Unclear About the SOFA Referendum

In order to secure the passage of the Status of Forces Agreement, the Maliki government had to agree to a Sunni-driven demand for a popular referendum on speeding up the U.S. withdrawal from the country. Early reporting suggested that it could potentially kick the U.S. out by mid-2010. Important as it seems, almost everything about that referendum remains unclear, as I learned when I asked Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for the Iraqi government, about it this afternoon.

Most importantly, the wording of the referendum question hasn’t been worked out. “One of the proposed questions would be, ‘Do you think that we will continue with the SOFA, whether yes or no,”” Dabbagh said. (By which I gathered he meant that was one proposed question among several, not that that will be the official text of the question. English isn’t his first language.) He continued to say that the Iraqi parliament will have to pass a law “to decide what type of question.” That law should occur by the beginning of next year.

Dabbagh didn’t address what is required for the referendum to pass — simple majority? Majority of Iraqi provinces? Voted down if two-thirds of any three provinces reject it?, etc. He didn’t say and it could be that he law will have to determine that. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the parliament passes the referendum law to know.

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