After a 4 and a 1/2 hour meeting little was accomplished in a cabinet meeting to discuss the "final" draft of a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq that would replace a United Nations mandate that currently governs the U.S. presence here. Following the meeting it was no longer final, Shiite ministers once again raised objections to the wording of the draft.
The Foreign Minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, conceded that it was unlikely the agreement would be finalized before the U.S. elections on Nov. 4, he told Reuters. The clock is ticking; the United Nations mandate expires on Dec. 31.
The agreement, which now is set to end in 2011, includes a clause that gives the Government of Iraq the option to extend the agreement. Members of the Shiite Iraqi parties said it was too vague and also objected to wording of the jurisdiction of U.S. soldiers.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki asked for a list of objections to be submitted to his office by Wednesday afternoon.
The leader of Iraq sits in an uncomfortable position now as Iraq transitions from a nation with a foreign occupation to a nation with a mutual partnership and agreement with a former occupier.
The Political Council for National Security couldn't come to a decision on the latest version of the draft and so Maliki passed it on to his cabinet where most parties are represented, save the followers of Muqtada al Sadr who wholly reject the accord.
Maliki does not want to take the blame if the agreement is rejected by the Iraqi parliament, who must pass it in order for it to take effect.
"He genuinely understands that there needs to be an agreement but he feels that he has been passed a hot potato by the political council," a senior Iraqi official said referring to the Political Council on National Security which represents the various Iraqi parties. "He felt they actually passed the buck and he didn’t want to be made a scapegoat for encouraging an agreement when there are disagreements."
So Maliki was indifferent during the hours-long meeting as minister after minister voiced their objections to specific clauses. The Kurdish alliance is the only group that has endorsed the latest draft.
"He doesn’t want to support a document and get an approval from the cabinet, then send it to the council of representatives where it might be rejected," the official said.
Maliki fears bearing the historical responsibility for an agreement that could be rejected by the Iraqi street as signing away Iraq's sovereignty.
But it is also unclear if Shiite legislators are genuine in their objections to the agreement. The agreement has changed significantly in the favor of the Iraqi government during the months-long negotiations. Shiite officials, including Maliki, have claimed to agree to an American compromise and then when the draft is finalized object the written product.
Soon there will be another "final" draft in this drawn-out process which was originally supposed to be finished by July.
But the door is closing and it is unclear what would happen if the United Nations mandate is not renewed and an agreement is not finalized by the end of the year. The United States would then be an illegal occupier and they would have no legal cover in Iraq while they withdrew their forces.