On November 27, 2008 Iraq’s parliament passed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which set the future relationship between Iraq and the United States. The only real concession the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front was able to get included in the agreement was a referendum on the deal to be held in July 2009. That date is quickly approaching, but there’s no rush in Baghdad to have the vote happen.
Having the Americans go is popular in Iraq right now, and politicians like to talk about it to gain favor before the January 2010 parliamentary election, but in practice there is no real effort behind having the July referendum. In mid-May 2009 the Iraqi Election Commission said that it was ready to hold the vote, but that parliament needed to pass a law and budget for it. On July 9 it appeared that this was moving forward when the Councils of Ministers, Maliki’s cabinet, allocated $99.575 million for the referendum. It was then reported that the cabinet wanted to delay the vote for six months so that it would happen at the same time as the January 2010 parliamentary balloting. If Iraq’s legislature acts like normal, it could take six months or longer to pass a law to regulate the referendum. In addition, the U.S. is also working behind the scenes to try to have Baghdad cancel the vote altogether.
If the referendum is held, many American observers believe that it will not pass. That would mean U.S. combat troops would have one year to withdraw from Iraq after the voting day. The White House and Pentagon need to make contingency planning for this possible outcome. At the same time, given Iraq’s parliament’s recent history, it’s unlikely that they can pass any legislation on time. One that is political sensitive like a referendum on SOFA is likely to drag out even longer. At the same time, since Iraqi nationalism is on the rise the referendum could very likely correspond with the parliamentary elections, so Iraqi politicians could use it to their personal advantage. Also of importance is the fact that a large training/advising force will probably stay behind to provide logistics, air and sea support, and intelligence for the Iraqi forces whether the U.S. pulls out in January 2011 or December 2011.
Alsumaria, “IHEC ready to hold referendum on US pact,” 5/14/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi govt. allocates $100 million for referendum on security agreement,” 6/9/09
Rubin, Alissa, “Iraq Moves Ahead With Vote on U.S. Security Pact,” New York Times, 6/10/09
Rubin, Alissa, Robertson, Campbell and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact,” New York Times, 11/27/08