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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Thur: Referendum on SOFA?
Al-Rubai'i: Security Agreement Will be Submitted to a Popular Vote in July
By AMER MOHSEN 11/26/2008 5:03 PM ET
Kull al-'Iraq
Kull al-'Iraq
Contrary to the predictions of government-owned As-Sabah, the controversial SOFA agreement was not passed in the Parliament’s session on Wednesday, which indicates the persistence of unresolved issues between the pro-SOFA coalition and the Sunni parties in the Parliament.

As Lebanese daily al-Akhbar put it yesterday, a vote on SOFA is likely to garner a majority in the Parliament, but the addition of the 44 Iraqi Accord Front votes would make the difference between “a slight majority” and an overwhelming one, thus bestowing a measure of legitimacy on the treaty and an appearance of “national consensus” over the matter.

Iraqi and Arab outlets, however, disagreed over the reasons behind the postponement of the SOFA vote. Al-Jazeera quoted the Speaker of the Parliament, Sunni leader Mahmud al-Mashhadani, as saying that “most of the problematic issues have been resolved,” hinting that tomorrow’s session (Thursday) could witness the passing of the treaty. Mashhadani claimed that “a single issue” still separates the Sunni factions from agreeing to the security deal.

Az-Zaman claimed that “the single issue” invoked by Mashhadani pertains to the holding of a popular referendum on SOFA, following the Parliamentary vote. An MP belonging to 'Allawi’s Iraqi List implied that the other blocs have accepted the principle of the referendum, but that disagreements currently center on “logistical and practical issues” regarding the process of the referendum.

Al-'Arabiya carried additional details on the referendum proposal. In an interview with the news channel, Iraqi National Security Advisor Mouaffaq al-Rubai'i said that the referendum will take place by July 30th, 2009; adding that “the Iraqi people ... will decide whether the agreement is valid or not.” The leader of the Sunni IAF bloc, Ayad al-Samarra’i, confirmed the news, announcing in a press conference that his bloc has agreed to the holding of the referendum as a condition for the promulgation of SOFA.

However, SOFA’s term should come into effect by the time the UN mandate expires, by the end of the current year. Will the treaty be ratified “conditionally” until the popular vote? And what happens if the electorate votes negatively? These questions remain unanswered, but an MP in the Shi'a I’tilaf said that the government “will have to cancel or re-negotiate the agreement” if it were voted down in the referendum.

In addition to the referendum, the IAF is demanding the promulgation of a political reform package simultaneously with the security agreement. Negotiations over the terms of the package are coordinated by President Talabani, al-Mada said.

Az-Zaman in its international edition was far less optimistic regarding the course of negotiations with the Sunni MPs and the likelihood of a vote on SOFA in tomorrow’s session. The London edition of the paper claimed that it is unsure that the session will be even held, and quoted a Shi'a I’tilaf MP, Hadi al-'Amiri, as saying that the Sunni MPs may not show up to the Parliament tomorrow. Al-'Amiri blamed Sunni leader Salih al-Mutlaq for the breakdown of negotiations on Wednesday, claiming that al-Mutlaq demanded the abolishing of the criminal court set up to try ex-regime members; which, according to al-'Amiri, would be unconstitutional.

Pro-Talabani al-Mada was the most upbeat, claiming confidently that “everyone agrees on the political reform document,” except for the unresolved matter of the Criminal Court and the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which replaced the de-Ba'thification law, and which the IAF wants to see abolished as well.


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