Sadr demands Referendum on SOFA; Sistani said to Support Referendum

CNN is reporting that Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr is demanding that any US-Iraqi security agreement be submitted to a national referendum.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that he is in good company:

‘ Sources close to the office of the Shiite Supreme Exemplar, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, told al-Hayat that he called on the Iraqi prime minister during the latter’s visit to Najaf recently, to deal cautiously with the agreement and called on him to organize a national referendum on it.’

So the idea of a national referendum on any Status of Forces agreement seems to be spreading. In my view, one impetus for this adoption of a California-style referendum approach is that the Iraqi parliament is not seen as strong enough to express the will of the people. Parliament often cannot hold a session because it lacks a quorum. The United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance run it as a tyranny of the majority, when the UIA can get Shiite independents to vote with it. Often if al-Maliki is afraid he cannot get a law passed, he will avoid holding a precise one-by-one vote of the parliamentarians. Rather he’ll ask for general assent without a voice vote. In essence, Iraq is being run by the cabinet, which often doubles as both executive and legislature (functioning as a sort of senate).

In 2006, the Sadrists in parliament demanded that the Iraqi government request for the renewal of the UN mandate for US and other foreign forces in Iraq be submitted to parliament before it was sent to the UN. Al-Maliki rejected that demand.

So if the legislature is rendered relatively toothless, it loses a great deal of legitimacy.

Hence the demand for a national referendum.

Any opposition of the Shiite religious leaders to a US-Iraqi security treaty could put it in question, in a big way.