Followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have called for a referendum before any deal reached between the Iraqi government and the US military on maintaining troops in the country after 2008:
With American combat deaths at a 4 year low and the continued progress of the Iraqi military in being able to defend the country against internal enemies, the security negotiations should be going better than they are. But the Sadrists are still a powerful political force - especially in the South - and no one in Prime Minister Malki's coalition wants to rile them up in advance of the October elections. This could mean the US will have to go back to the UN and get an extension on their mandate - probably for another year.
Senior Sadrists, including lawmakers Falah Hassan Shanshal and Maha Adel al-Douri, met in the cleric's Sadr City office in Baghdad and issued a statement calling on the Iraqi government to stop negotiations with the U.S. and to hold a public referendum on the issue.
Al-Sadr, the hardline Shiite cleric and militia leader whose Mahdi Army battled American troops in Baghdad's Sadr City district until a truce this month, also has called for a referendum along with weekly protests against the deal. And, opposition has been growing among other groups.
U.S. and Iraqi officials began negotiations in March on a blueprint for the long-term security agreement and a second deal, to establish the legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in the country after a U.N. mandate runs out. Few details have been released about the talks.
Although U.S. officials insist they are not seeking permanent bases, suspicion runs deep among many Iraqis that the Americans want to keep at least some troops in the country for many years.
The U.S. military has continued to target what it calls Iranian-backed Shiite militia factions, warning key leaders have fled to other areas as American and Iraqi forces closed in on them in Sadr City.
That won't sit well with many here in America who wish to see the bulk of our troops home. But these are the realities on the ground in Iraq - something the Democrats continue to ignore in their efforts to gut our troop levels for partisan political purposes - and Barack Obama better recognize the true state of affairs before he starts withdrawing our forces precipitously.