The Washington Post reports that the U.S.- Iraqi status of forces agreement has run into serious opposition from members of Iraq’s powerful Shiite religious bloc:
The change sought by the influential United Iraqi Alliance would harden the withdrawal date for U.S. troops. A draft bilateral agreement completed this week would require American forces to leave by December 2011 but would allow for an extension by mutual agreement.
The Shiite bloc, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, also insists that Iraqi officials have a bigger role in determining whether U.S. soldiers accused of wrongdoing are subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts, said Sami al-Askeri, a political adviser to Maliki. That proposal has been resisted by the Pentagon.
On Saturday, tens of thousands — Sunnis and Shiites — turning out to demonstrate against the SOFA in Baghdad.
Last week, General Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said in an interview “that American intelligence reports suggest Iran has attempted to bribe Iraqi lawmakers in an effort to derail” the SOFA. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki responded harshly, saying in remarks were aired on state television that Odierno “had risked his position” with the accusations. (It’s unclear whether, or how many of, the tens of thousands of Iraqis protesting against the agreement last weekend were bribed by Iran to show up.)
Last week the AP ran this story on the growing divisions between Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which has been an important ally for Maliki’s as he has sought to establish his independence from the Sadrists, whose support allowed him to become prime minister in 2006. Relations between ISCI and Maliki’s Da’wa Party “began to sour after al-Maliki grew stronger and more assertive following a series of political and military successes” this Spring:
Ties further strained after al-Maliki sought to compete with the Supreme Council for influence in southern Iraq, luring tribesmen with cash and jobs to form “Support Councils” — government-backed groups designed to extend support to security forces in their provinces. [...]
Al-Maliki may soon announce an alliance between his party and the estimated 30 independent Shiite lawmakers to contest next year’s balloting.
Signs also are emerging that al-Maliki has been slowly mending fences with the 30-seat bloc in parliament that is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as well as the 44-seat Sunni Arab alliance.
However one interprets the political maneuvering taking place, the fact remains that support among Iraqis for a “date certain” for U.S. withdrawal is the most significant issue around which there is genuine Iraqi consensus. It’s essential that the U.S. recognize and honor that consensus in order to enable progress around the other tough issues that currently divide Iraqis, as it continues to be clear that no genuine Iraqi political unity can develop while the Iraqi government continues to be underwritten by an open-ended foreign military presence.
As recommended in the CAP report “Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge,” rather than bargaining with Iraq to let us stay, it would be better — for the United States and for Iraq — if we used the diminishing but still significant leverage that we currently have over various Iraqi actors to encourage them to make the tough compromises that are required for a sustainable political accommodation.