"......Besides making a big show of protest in parliament, the al-Sadrites are intentionally trying to delay the SOFA proceedings with the knowledge that many Iraqi parliamentarians will be leaving over the next few days for Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj. If the al-Sadrites can stall deliberations on the agreement, they could deny the pro-SOFA parliamentary bloc a quorum to approve the deal.
Through a message relayed by one of his aides Nov. 20, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, admonished Iraqi Shiite parliamentarians for resorting to such tactics and for leaving for the Hajj early, accusing them of directly defying his orders. Al-Sistani had earlier given his typically ambiguous endorsement of the SOFA and is now feeling pressured to take a harder line against those opposing the pact. Further complicating matters, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), is very close to dying of cancer. ISCI’s support in parliament is critical to the SOFA’s passage, but if al-Hakim dies in the coming days, the mourning period has a good chance of disrupting the vote.....
Meanwhile, the Iranians appear to be playing a complex game. On one hand, Iran’s judiciary chief gave his indirect endorsement of the SOFA after it passed in Iraq’s Cabinet, signaling that Tehran was satisfied with the revised draft of the agreement that included a hardened date for withdrawal. At the same time, Iran’s influential parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, has issued statements calling on Iraqi leaders to continue their resistance against the security pact.
In many ways, Iran is operating from a weak position. Though it has strong political connections inside Baghdad, many of Iraq’s Shiite parties, including the ISCI, have maintained a careful balancing act between Washington and Tehran and are acting in their own interests. After spending months lambasting the SOFA and bribing and threatening Iraqi officials, the Iranians cannot let it appear that this deal was imposed on them. At the same time, Iran has been heavily involved in back-channel negotiations to influence the language of the SOFA text to ensure that severe limitations are placed on U.S. forces in Iraq. Whether or not the SOFA passes, Iran needs to create the impression that it is largely calling the shots on the deal so it can set the stage for negotiations with the incoming U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration."