Though yesterday the Iraqi cabinet announced that it intended to delay the referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) until January of next year “to save time and money,” members of the Iraqi parliament say that the delay is unlikely and the government is moving ahead under the assumption that the vote will happen as originally planned at the end of July.
“The date was an essential part of the security agreement” one member of the ruling Dawa Party noted, and indeed the promise of the referendum was likely the only way the government managed to win narrow passage of the unpopular SOFA in the first place.
The referendum was demanded chiefly by the pact’s Sunni opponents, and even though the cabinet seems inclined to delay the vote as long as possible the date change would face a rough road through parliament, who would have to sign off on any delay.
The SOFA, which provides the legal basis for the US military presence in the nation through the end of 2011, has been roundly criticized by the Sunni bloc as well as influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The referendum will likely be a very difficult sale in the nation and its defeat could pose a serious challenge to the Obama Administration, which intends to keep troops in the nation indefinitely.