Last Updated 6/10/09 11:40 PM EST
Note: The previous version of this article operated under the assumption that the cabinet’s call for a delay was a done deal. Members of the Iraqi Parliament however say the delay is unlikely to happen. The article has been changed to reflect this and a broader version of parliament’s comments can be found here.
The only way the Iraqi government was able to ratify the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States in November was with the promise that the deal would be put before the Iraqi populace as a referendum to be held on July 30 of this year.
With less than two months before the promised vote and with no preparations made, it was hardly surprising today when the cabinet announced that it wanted to push back the referendum and hold it concurrently with the already-delayed parliamentary elections on January 30, 2010. The delay was ostensibly to “save time and money.”
Yet in reality the delay would take what was already a largely symbolic referendum and made it virtually meaningless. The SOFA agreement only covers the period from January 1, 2009 through the end of 2011, and requires a 12 month advance notice before either party can cancel the pact. This means that if the delayed referendum fails the deal would still be into effect into the beginning of 2011, though a defeat at the polls would likely do serious harm to the Maliki government for pushing the pact through in the first place.
The SOFA was intended to limit the largely unchecked exercise of force the US forces had enjoyed under the UN mandate covering the occupation through the end of 2008. In reality the US has largely ignored the procedural changes of the pact, and apart from occasional complaints by the Iraqi government has seen little if any consequence.