Secular and nationalist opponents of the Baghdad regime of Nouri al-Maliki failed, and spectacularly so, to block the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and their failure is not a surprise. The ruling alliance of Shiite religious parties and Kurds, who moved forward with the tacit support of Iran, steamrollered opposition to the accord, which passed with at least 144 votes out of 198 members of parliament in attendance.
“A huge number of members left the country, supposedly on hajj [to Mecca] or for other reasons,” said a leading Iraqi insider.
But, although the vote is a victory for Maliki, it says little about the future stability and security of the Iraqi state. And it says even less about the future of US-Iraq relations.
One important aspect of the back-and-forth among competing political blocs in advance of the vote is that Maliki felt compelled to make promises to the opposition about steps toward dealing with the many unresolved issues that threaten to explode Iraq in 2009.
A sharp-eyed analysis comes from Reidar Visser, research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and member of the Gulf Research Unit at the University of Oslo, who writes:
“Among the key demands [of the opposition] was a pledge by the government to work to reform the constitution and the political system of the country more generally, as well as committing to revisit the laws relating to the general amnesty law and the treatment of former Baathists and to work for the reintegration of the Awakening councils (al-sahwat) in the Iraqi security forces.”
Still, though Maliki made concessions to the opposition to win their support (or at least their abstention) in the SOFA vote, in my opinion the Iraqi prime minister has no intention of fulfilling those promises. He continues to build his own power, strengthening his control over the Iraqi armed forces, and organizing paramilitary tribal councils in province after province that look like private, pro-Maliki militias. It bodes ill for the future. Adds Visser:
“Based on his past actions, it seems doubtful that Maliki realises the need to also abolish the system of sectarian domination through ethno-sectarian quotas, and without this kind of profound overhaul of the Iraqi system, an American withdrawal in the context of a Maliki government could mean a turn to greater authoritarianism or even covert or tacit Iranian support.”