If the SOFA passes, the United States will have a legally approved military presence in Iraq for at least the next three years
- to consolidate gains made thus far in the security situation, and
- to sustain a blocking force against neighboring Iran.
the pact sets in place a strategic partnership between Baghdad and Washington for the longer term,
- thereby serving U.S. interests in maintaining a foothold in the region
- and keeping the Iranians at bay.
The Iraqi politicians who oppose the agreement,
- most notably those loyal to Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr,
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, admonished Iraqi Shiite parliamentarians for resorting to such tactics and for leaving for the Hajj early, accusing them of directly defying his orders. Al-Sistani had earlier given his typically ambiguous endorsement of the SOFA
Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), is very close to dying of cancer, the mourning period has a good chance of disrupting the vote.
If the United States has to resort to extending the U.N. mandate instead of implementing the SOFA, it will be up to the incoming U.S. administration to pick up negotiations on the security pact where they left off.
Meanwhile, the Iranians appear to be playing a complex game. On one hand, Iran’s judiciary chief gave his indirect endorsement of the SOFA after it passed in Iraq’s Cabinet, signaling that Tehran was satisfied with the revised draft of the agreement that included a hardened date for withdrawal.
At the same time, Iran’s influential parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, has issued statements calling on Iraqi leaders to continue their resistance against the security pact.
Iran needs to create the impression that it is largely calling the shots on the deal so it can set the stage for negotiations with the incoming U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration.