IRAQ SOFA UPDATE….This took longer than I expected, but the Iraqi cabinet has voted almost unanimously to approve the latest draft of a security agreement that governs the continued presence of U.S. troops:
All but one of the 28 cabinet ministers who attended the two-and-a-half-hour session voted for the agreement and sent it to Parliament for consideration
….The draft approved Sunday requires coalition forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns by the summer of 2009 and from the country by the end of 2011. An earlier version had language giving some flexibility to that deadline, with both sides discussing timetables and timelines for withdrawal, but the Iraqis managed to have the deadline set in stone, a significant negotiating victory. The United States has around 150,000 troops in Iraq.
….In a crucial development, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, indicated on Saturday that he would support whatever decision is arrived at in Parliament as representative of the will of the Iraqi people. Shiite officials who met with the ayatollah said eh found the latest draft acceptable, if not perfect.
Approval by parliament is likely to follow fairly quickly. This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for a little while longer; good for George Bush, who’s getting a slightly longer timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good for Obama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into a bipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complain about Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved by Bush. Obama has enough on his plate already, and taking this issue off the table ought to be a considerable relief to him.