Well folks, this is pretty big, if you ask me. The Iraqi cabinet has just forwarded to their Parliament a resolution agreeing to an SOFA with the US that calls for US troops to be out of all cities and towns within 8 months (June 30, 2009) and to be completely gone from the country by the end of 2011.
This is huge not only because of the "dates-certain" involved, but also because those dates are not subject to future negotiation or "facts on the ground."
The agreement sets June 30, 2009, as the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from all Iraqi cities and towns, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The date for all troops to leave Iraq will be December 31, 2011, he said.
These dates are "set and fixed" and are "not subject to the circumstances on the ground," he said.
(Note: hattip to therealcervantes, who included this in the body of his Iraq-news diary, which didn't get much attention and is scrolling off, so give him some mojo.)
In case you missed it, that's an 8 month deadline for US troops to retreat to their bases, with no presence in any Iraqi population centers. This is militarily untenable and will accelerate Obama's withdrawal schedule (not to mention give him a rhetorical point to score - a Bush-negotiated tactical retreat - as he executes the withdrawal).
If y'all recall, the stance of the Bushists (McCain included) has been right along that any SOFA should be open ended and contingent upon those pesky "facts." Well, the neocons have just been stood down by the Iraqi government and the only concession they got in return for those get-the-hell-out-of-our-country deadlines was continued immunity from prosecution for US troops (unless they commit crimes off duty and off base).
Now, the passage of this agreement isn't guaranteed, but that's almost a moot point since, if it fails to pass their Parliament, the US will be in a worse negotiating position by virtue of the illegality of their presence in 1.5 months (Jan 1).
The Bush Administration, as they watch their free-market philosophy swirl down the rathole of global financial collapse, have also been given the pleasure of watching their masturbatory New American Century evaportate in the sands of the country it was supposed to be launched from.
As a side note, I'm in the process of writing parody Christmas carol, to the tune of O Tannenbaum: "O Schadenfreude."
UPDATE: thanks for the recs, folks. This is just my second shot on the rec list - and the first one was based on a bad Bloomburg report. Heh; hope CNN and the NYT don't let me down on this one.
UPDATE II: Several posters have wondered (as have I) what will be the disposition of the mercenary forces and the contractors there, as our troops begin to pull out. This is a very good question which isn't addressed in these dispatches from Baghdad. I will continue to look for the SOFA document, and will post when it becomes available. Since the NYT piece notes that some Sunni contingents haven't even seen a copy of the draft yet, the document might be a bit elusive right now.
UPDATE III: Here's another important aspect of the SOFA that's going to their Parliament, as quoted from an AP article (the title of which puts a decidedly Bushist spin on the deal):
It (the proposed SOFA) also prohibits the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq's neighbors, like Syria and Iran.
This is also very big, and answers some posters' questions below about the ability of the US to stage attacks from those bases during the interregnum. But again, we don't have the actual document yet, so....
(H/T to cassandraX for bringing it to my attention.)
According to Mr Dabbagh, the agreement's terms include:
* placing US forces in Iraq under the authority of the Iraqi government
* US forces to leave the streets of Iraq's towns and villages by the middle of 2009
* US forces to hand over their bases to Iraq during the course of 2009
* US forces to lose the authority to raid Iraqi homes without an order from an Iraqi judge and permission of the government.
To all those in the the comments below who claim that this is actually a neocon victory, I say, "Really?"
Oh, and there's this little maraschino cherry on top of it all:
Washington had previously said the pact was "final" and could not be amended.