Mindful of their nationalist credentials in an election year, Iraqi politicians are pressing ahead with plans to hold a referendum on the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, The New York Times reports. If the pact is voted down, U.S. troops will have to pack up and leave one year ahead of schedule, in 2010. Marc Lynch saw this coming already in January:
Should the SOFA/WA fail to pass, U.S. forces will need either to begin withdrawing at an uncomfortably rapid rate or else find some other formal authorization to remain. Neither will be an attractive proposition. The government wants the agreement to pass, and will likely establish rules and a format conducive to success. But opposition forces will attempt to mobilize outrage at every opportunity to portray the United States as violating the terms of the SOFA/WA and not actually intending to withdraw. The referendum will almost certainly become a major issue in intra-Shia (and to a lesser extent intra-Sunni) political competition. U.S. policy needs to be extremely careful to not feed these flames.