Iraq Cabinet Approves SOFA

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:

This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for alittle while longer; good for George Bush, who’s getting a slightlylonger timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good forObama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into abipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complainabout Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved byBush.

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:

Several politicians said an obstacle to Parliament’s approval would beits failure to achieve a quorum, a chronic failing — especially iflawmakers immediately left for Saudi Arabia on the annual Hajjpilgrimage. Parliament quickly sought to thwart that possibility bybanning members from traveling abroad.

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.

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