In a just-published interview with Middle East Progress, Sadiq al-Rikabi, one of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s senior advisers, says that “considering the American president’s speech about the U.S. commitment for responsible withdrawal, we do not feel a referendum is necessary.”
The decision will need to be taken in parliament, as the referendum is currently enshrined in law, and so if it is to be cancelled, we need a new law to say so. But even if the referendum is held on its assigned date, I’m not worried at all about the approval of the SOFA.
Marc Lynch comments: “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the U.S. and Maliki would both like to see the referendum quietly dropped.Neither really wanted it to begin with. For the U.S., it complicates strategic planning, while it was forced on Maliki by the Iraqi Parliament as the price of ratification.”
Just because the Prime Minister’s Office or the U.S. would like to avoid the referendum doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, though. It is currently a legal requirement, and canceling it would require new legislation — which would offer an opportunity for ambitious Iraqi politicians to mobilize public support against Maliki and against the United States ahead of the scheduled national Parliamentary elections.
Maliki clearly believes — with more than a little justification — that his victory in the provincial elections has substantially boosted his political power. A walk-back from his commitment to a SOFA referendum could put that belief to the test.