Iraq’s most influential religious leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed serious concerns about the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States which narrowly passed in Iraq’s Parliament on Thursday. Sistani says he believes the United States has the “upper hand” in the deal, and that it does not do enough to protect Iraq’s sovereignty. He was also concerned that the Iraqi government was too weak to implement the deal.
Sistani had previously said he would accept parliament’s decision, but an official from his office indicated that he was unsatisfied with the narrow margin of passage. He did however indicate that he would leave the ultimate decision up to Iraqi voters in a July referendum.
Sistani’s support for the referendum will likely prevent the Iraqi government from finding an excuse to delay it, but the terms of the SOFA would keep a failed referendum from having any effect for at least a year after the vote is taken. Sistani’s public concerns about the deal are likely to damage the hopes of winning the referendum among a public already wary (and in some cases, dramatically opposed) to the SOFA.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh has cautioned against expressing public concern about the deal, and said the first six months will be useful to “test intentions” and prove that the US is committed to honoring the deal.