[JURIST] The Iraqi Cabinet on Monday approved a draft bill that would require a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. When the SOFA was originally reached and entered into effect on January 1, Iraqi lawmakers called for a referendum that was to have been held in July, but the referendum was never held. Under the proposed bill [Reuters report], which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum would occur during the parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 16. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw [Washington Post report], which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal – nearly a year ahead of schedule. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.
Under the agreement, US troops withdraw from Iraqi urban centers at the end of June. The SOFA was signed [JURIST report] in December and took effect on January 1. The agreement was negotiated between Iraq and the US in anticipation of the 2009 expiration of the UN mandate [text] that allowed the presence of US military in Iraq. In addition to setting the official deadlines for troop withdrawal, the SOFA gives Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over American military personnel and eliminates immunity [JURIST reports] for US defense contractors working within Iraq.