Saturday, November 29, 2008

July SOFA Referendum

On November 27 Iraq’s parliament agreed to two deals with the United States. The first was a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that allows the U.S. military to operate in Iraq until the end of 2011 when they are suppose to withdraw. The second was a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that set diplomatic relations between the two countries. Both deals can be renegotiated by Baghdad if it pleases. The Sunni parties also had the Iraqi legislature pass a bill that creates a referendum on the SOFA by the end of July 2009. The task ahead for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is to build up public support for the agreement so that it passes the vote.

The first hurtle Maliki will face is informing the politicians and public of what the SOFA/SFA actually entail. During the parliamentary debate, an Iraqi reporter for the New York Times noted that 70% of the legislatures didn’t appear to know what was in the agreement. One said the deal didn’t give the government the right to search U.S. mail and cargo coming into Iraq, but it did. Another complained that it didn’t end the U.N.’s Chapter VII, which was passed during the Saddam years saying that Iraq was a threat to international security. That status is in fact terminated. A Sadrist parliamentarian claimed that the agreement didn’t stop the United States from using Iraq as a base to attack other countries, but there is an article that bars this, although there is some disagreement about its interpretation between the two sides.

The general public was even less informed. An October 2008 public opinion poll by the Iraq Centre For Research & Strategic Studies that did face to face interviews with 3,000 Iraqis from all 18 provinces found that 49.8% of respondents didn’t know about the SOFA. Of the 46.2% that had heard of the agreement, opinions were evenly split over whether it would be good or bad for the country. In the end though, 61.3% disagreed with the deal, compared to only 28.5% being for it. The poll was conducted in September and October however, before the government had been able to get a series of concessions from the United States that greatly increased its power over American forces within Iraq. The government run Al-Sabah paper published another poll on November 23 that found 46% of Iraqis for the SOFA, 34.5% against, and 19.4% replying that they didn’t know. Their poll asked 5,576 Iraqis from 10 provinces. Of those, the majority of respondents in Babil, Qadisiyah, and Diyala were against the agreement, while Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Basra, Karbala, Wasit, Maysan, and Irbil were for it.

In the run up to the parliamentary vote, the government tried to inform the public about the agreement to garner support, which will continue to be its job. Officials released copies of the SOFA to reporters and began reading parts of it on government owned TV. Whether this public relations campaign was responsible for the shift in opinion between the two polls is unknown. The Iraq Centre is a non-partisan Iraqi based think tank, while Al-Sabah operates out of the Green Zone, so the latter could’ve been propaganda. Either way, there is still not a majority in favor of the agreement according to the two, which is necessary to get pass the July referendum. Maliki’s government will then have its hands full trying to win over more people, while the United States needs to make sure it doesn’t have any breaches of the agreement that will turn Iraqis against the SOFA.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Sunni Arab support key to US-Iraq security deal,” Associated Press, 11/25/08

Ashton, Adam, Landay, Jonathan and Youssef, Nancy, “U.S. staying silent on its view of Iraq pact until after vote,” McClatchy Newspapers, 11/26/08

Baker, Peter and Tyson, Ann Scott, “Bush, Maliki Sign Pact on Iraq’s Future,” Washington Post, 11/27/07

Fox News, “Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact, 11/27/08

Rubin, Alissa, Robertson, Campbell and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact,” New York Times, 11/27/08

Rubin, Alissa, Robertson, Campbell and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact,” New York Times, 11/27/08

Al-Sabah, “Poll: 46% of Iraqis Support Security Agreement,” 11/23/08

al-Salhy, Suadad, “Analysis on the Spot: SOFA, From Inside Parliament,” Baghdad Bureau – Iraq From the Inside Blog, New York times, 11/24/08

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