With regard to the SOFA approved by the Iraqi cabinet over the weekend (NY Times article here), I’ve got to agree with Kevin Drum’s assessment of the political optics:
In terms of operational nuts and bolts, I’m curious as to whether “new restrictions on American combat operations in Iraq starting Jan. 1” refers to Iraqi demands to halt cross-border attacks such as the one into Syrian territory. I also wonder whether if by transitioning American forces out of cities by this summer, this allows for an accelerated drawdown above and beyond those recently announced. If so, and if those troops are immediately redirected to Afghanistan, the political benefits for Obama that Drum mentions might quickly dissipate.
It’s important to remember, too, what this kind of vote does and doesn’t accomplish. What it does accomplish is to legitimize a continued American troop presence within the Iraqi political process (as opposed to within the UNSC process), thereby making any armed resistance to it illegitimate from purely domestic politics point of view.
What it doesn’t accomplish is to guarantee that those opposed to it will refrain from illegitimate armed resistance. For the time being, I’ve only heard of the Sadrist movement and Iran expressing opposition. Iran’s opposition has reportedly softened with the election of an American president committed to withdrawing troops as soon as possible. The Sadrist militia, meanwhile, is reportedly weakened, and the fact that Ayatollah Ali Sistani has accepted the Iraqi Parliament’s jurisdiction on this probably ties Sadr’s hands.
As for the Iraqi Parliament, the Times article also details the intricacies of shepherding legislation through that august body:
I’m seeing lede grafs along the lines of “Lawmaker X was arrested on his way to Mecca in order to rubber stamp legislation authorizing the ongoing American occupation.” That ought to go over very well in the original Arabic.