The path to an agreement with the government of Iraq over the continued presence of United States military forces has been long and hard. Now that the fundamental disagreements between Iraq and the United States appear to have been resolved, there are now contentious disagreements arising in the ratification debate taking place in the Iraqi parliament. According to Ahmed Rasheed's report for Reuters, filed from Baghdad, those disagreements may ultimately be resolved by the very democratic process that we claimed we were bringing to Iraq:
Iraq's parliament was likely to approve on Wednesday a pact that sets a date for U.S. military forces to withdraw, but could make the agreement dependent on a public referendum next year, lawmakers said.
The security deal, which would see the last U.S. soldier leave at the end of 2011, more than eight years after the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, was due to be put to a vote but continued to be subject to dogged last minute haggling.
The apparent agreement to hold a referendum is seen as a concession by Kurdish and Shi'ite blocs to Sunni Arab deputies who have said they would back the security pact if it was put to a nationwide vote. It has already been approved by the cabinet and signed with Washington.
If the proposal for a referendum is approved by parliament, the security pact would be passed, said Abdul-Kareem Al-Samaraie, a deputy from the main Sunni group, the Accordance Front, which had demanded the popular vote.
"There will be an initial approval of the security pact until we hold the referendum in 2009. It will be valid until then. If the result (of the referendum) is a 'No', it will be canceled," he said.
A senior lawmaker from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party said he had no problem with that and a Kurdish lawmaker, whose group is a partner in Maliki's Shi'ite-led coalition, concurred. A government spokesman said the proposal had not been finalized but appeared to do "no harm."
Given that the economic crisis has become the highest-priority problem of the incoming Administration, this will give Barack Obama some well-needed breathing space before having to confront his campaign promises about withdrawing from Iraq. If the agreement is voted down by referendum, then he simply has to accept Iraq's own wishes for a withdrawal; and, if the agreement is approved, then there will be at least some evidence that our continued presence over there is desired. Either way, this story makes an interesting contrast to that comment of Patricia Williams that I cited yesterday to the effect that the Bush Administration has never been particularly serious about government itself. The timing is such that George W. Bush will leave office at the time of a rather significant lesson in what it means to take government seriously, and that lesson will be coming from Iraq. Could there have been a more ironic conclusion to the eight-year mess we have endured?