While US media treated the Iraqi cabinet approval of the SOFA as a big win – and the wingnut blogs held a Victory in Iraq party day, the Iraqis once again reminded us that it is their country.
"It is not only the Iraqi parliament that has a role in overseeing this agreement, but the Iraqi people, who will have a referendum on July 30 so they can see if the agreement is correct or not, six months after it comes into effect," Iraq’s top negotiator Muwafaq al-Rubaie told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.
Maliki has been forced to delay the parliamentary vote – first until today, then until tomorrow – as he tries to collect enough votes for passage. The Iraqi Accord Front, a major Sunni bloc, insisted on approval of several governmental reforms including the release of Sunnis detained by US forces but their major demand was for a popular referendum on SOFA to be held by July 31, a concession they apparently have won within the Iraqi Parliament.
Now the question is whether the US will agree to a democratic vote:
[Deputy parliamentary speaker] Khaled al-Attiya said on the eve of the vote that a referendum was out of the question because the Americans were sure to reject it.
Reports just coming in claim that Condi Rice has said "an Iraqi proposal to hold a national referendum next year on a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement does not necessarily mean the pact will be put off. "
Condi’s willingness to allow a popular vote on the progress of SOFA raises some interesting questions. Is the Bush administration so desperate to have almost any agreement so long as the SOFA is portrayed here as some form of victory or is there more going on here? As Bernard at Moon of Alabama reminds us, Mailiki and Crocker signed two agreements, not just the SOFA – and the second, a Strategic Forces Agreement, may be the more important as he notes in:"The Iraq SOFA Is A Shiny Object that is supposed to keep our eyes away from the problematic text of the SFA."
A briefing by Greg Bruno of the Council of Foreign Relations says of the secret SFA:
Details of the second accord under discussion are more opaque. Referred to as a "strategic framework agreement," the measure would broadly address issues not covered by the SOFA, including those outlined in a "declaration of principles" document signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November 2007. Among these issues: the U.S. role in defending Iraq from internal and external threats; U.S. support of political reconciliation; and U.S. efforts to confront terrorist groups.
Nationalist members of Parliament led by Moqtada al Sadr’s trend remain opposed to any agreement “because it gives an Iraqi stamp of approval to the U.S. military presence in Iraq.”
And even if the SOFA is passed, the actual content of the agreement text may be contentious, as AFP reports:
… the English version has not been made public, and US officials in Washington said there may be a public dispute between the two sides over the interpretation of certain parts of the agreement.
Once again, despite all the attempts of BushCo to declare some sort of victory, the reality on the ground may be very different.