Change In the SOFA
The Iraqi Cabinet approved the security pact that they are calling a "withdrawal pact," which has a firm deadline for US troops to leave the major cities by next summer and all of Iraq by the end of 2011.
Parliament's deputy speaker, Khalid al-Attiyah, said he expected the 275-member legislature to begin debating the document this week and vote on it by Nov. 24.
The U.S. government agreed last week to an Iraqi request to amend the draft. The amendment removed what al-Attiyah said was ambiguous language that could allow U.S. forces not to adhere to a timeline for their withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012.
The Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties making up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government dominate parliament, so there is a good chance that the legislature will approve the security pact.
The final draft of the agreement is designed to meet Iraqi concerns over its sovereignty and its security needs as it continues to grapple with a diminished but persistent insurgency.
It provides for the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and gives Iraq the right to try U.S. soldiers and defense contractors in the case of serious crimes committed off-duty and off-base. It also prohibits the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq's neighbors, like Syria and Iran.
What I hope is that the nearing withdrawal date will force the Iraqis to come to terms with the rifts in their society. Baghdad and its environs remain violent, and the way in which Prime Minister Maliki is trying to muscle out the Sunnis from any power in the government is bound to cause a conflagration. When the US leaves - and Obama should stick to his 16-month vision, getting all combat troops out by mid-2010 and the residual forces by the confines of this agreement - Maliki will not be able to rely on a foreign military as a crutch. So the urgent need in the interim is a diplomatic agenda to reconcile the competing factions.
Juan Cole has more. Muqtada al-Sadr is opposing the pact, but his movement is somewhat less relevant these days. Even Iran is backing off and allowing this agreement to play out.
I agree in part with Kevin Drum, this is fairly good news all around - particularly the fact that Bush will be the one signing the agreement, and thus the cries from the right of "surrender" will be that much harder to make (though they'll still make them). I wouldn't go so far to say that Iraq is "off Obama's plate," as there's still much work to be done. But this is helpful.