A sectarian negotiating process
(1) There were parallel negotiations, one government-to-government which was more or less the publicly acknowledged one, and the other, unacknowledged, at the US embassy where the US talked individually with the main political parties to work out a set of "domestic calculations" that would satisfy the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties respectively, enough to ensure passage.
(2) The Kurdish parties were never a problem, because of the basic Kurdish popular opinion that the US presence is a guarantee for the Kurdistan region. As for the Shiite parties (Supreme Council and Dawa that is), they went from being opposed to drafts on the basis they "compromised Iraqi sovereignty", to being in favor of the final draft on the basis "Iraq has no better alternative". The Sunni parties went in the other direction, from being at first in favor (based on the need to rein in Maliki's one-man rule and to deter Iranian influence), to being opposed on the basis there was a need for "domestic political reform" to go along with the security agreement.
(3) Post-agreement PR is a good reflection of what was done. The Shiite parties boast of "major achievements" in respect to sovereignty (supervision of US military activities and so on) in addition to the withdrawal timetable. The Islamic Party has taken credit, or tried to, for the agreement to hold a referendum on the agreement in July. The Americans were not opposed to this idea, Abbas says, and this became the division of political goodies from the process: "sovereignty" for the Shiite parties, and "referendum" for the Islamic Party.
Something is escaping me here. Maliki had been expected to find some way of waiting for a more favorable negotiating atmosphere with the Obama administration, on the obvious basis that Obama was more amenable to withdrawal than the Bush administration. Suddenly the Shiite parties were saying: We must accept the current offer, because Iraq will have no better alternative. What happened to the idea of a better deal from Obama?
Secondly, the idea that the Islamic Party's key inducement was supposed to be the taking of credit for the referendum-idea seems far-fetched. Referendum was one of the major themes of the weekly Sadrist demonstrations, and it was referred to in statements by Sistani and others as well. Referendum=bona fides of the Islamic Party doesn't seem like a very good PR fit. Could there have been other inducements offered to the Sunni parties in that non-public series of negotiations at the US embassy?
Finally, in America, the Obama policy-groupies had in recent months been outspoken in their criticism of the Bush administration for not exerting "strategic" leverage on Maliki to make political concessions to the Sunni parties. Suddenly the bloggish Obama people (Katulis, Kahl, Sam Parker, Marc Lynch and that whole group, not to mention the whole of Brookings, CAP, etcetera) have fallen completely silent on Iraq policy. What happened to their "leverage" argument?
Putting the questions together: What did the Maliki administration come to understand about the coming Democratic Party policy that made him grab for the best deal available under Bush, even though key "concessions on sovereignty" such as supervision of US military activities, and criminal jurisdiction, were clearly exposed as a sham in the McClatchy story on the eve of the vote (points on which even Sistani is now showing signs of buyers remorse).
And what made the Islamic Party decide in the final week of negotiations to support the agreement. Abbas says what was involved was a package of "domestic calculations", but all he mentions in particular is this far-fetched idea that the party could take credit for the decision to hold a referendum. Possibly there was something else. Possibly the US finally gave up on the idea of "leveraging" Maliki to make concessions to the Sunni parties, and the US decided to help the Sunni parties on its own.
Possibly this accounts for scuttlebut along these lines has surfaced in a couple of instances, both of them having a common feature: the spectre of US security support for Sunni groups in the western part of Iraq. Possibly.
Because this is what Biden had been saying: Central-government accomodations are not in the cards; there have to be separate regions by ethnicity and sect. Certainly if the US is setting itself up to supervise such a process over the coming three-year period of time (or longer), that is certainly something that would account for the silence we are hearing from the Democratic Party policy-groupies.
Brian, Colin, Sam, Marc and all of you: Would it hurt you to say it isn't so.