On November 27, 2008, Iraq’s Parliament ratified the U.S.–Iraqi Security Pact that allows American troops to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011. Contrary to expectations, this instrument did not become a symbol of national reconciliation and unity.

The governing Shi’ite and Kurdish majorities refused to satisfy the main demand of Sunni parties, who asked that the rights of former members of Ba'ath, the ruling party during Saddam Hussein’s regime, be reinstated. In exchange, Sunnis would support the Security Pact.

Iraq’s government had already approved the Security Pact on November 15th. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not immediately submit the document to the Parliament, even though he could have anticipated that the pact would be ratified by Shi’ites and Kurds, who constitute a majority (albeit a feeble one) of the 275-seat Parliament. Mr. Nour al-Maliki declared that the government needed an agreement that would please all Iraqis, not just any agreement at any price.

Members of Parliament were unable to make any changes to the document that had been agreed upon with the Americans. Moreover, the Sunni parties who posed the last obstacle to ratification of the security pact did not even insist on any changes. They were fully pleased with the document that set a mid-2009 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities, and a 2011 deadline for the final withdrawal of American troops.

Having had their power taken away in recent years, Sunnis planned to use the pact as a bargaining point and negotiate the reinstatement of positions they lost after the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. In particular, they demanded that the rights of the former Ba’athists be reinstated; their party, Ba’ath, had thrived under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. However, this proposition did not win approval of Kurds or Shi’ites who hold the Ba’ath Party responsible for the crimes of the dictatorial regime.

Instead, the Parliament approved a much less important proposition by the Sunnis concerning the Security Pact: within the next six months, the Parliament will hold a referendum on the pact, but now the Parliament must work on its ratification.

Meanwhile, the pact will justify the presence of American troops in Iraq, since the corresponding U.N. resolution expires on December 31, 2008. Following the referendum, the agreement must be approved by Iraq's three-member Presidency Council that represents Shi’ites, Kurds, and Sunnis.

Of course, no surprises are expected from the Council. Nonetheless, if Iraqis vote against the security agreement in the referendum, the agreement will be annulled.

For Sunnis, the concession on referendum is a miserable pittance. Conspicuously, they refused to vote on the U.S.–Iraqi Security Pact. As a result, only 198 MP's voted on the pact, and only 149 MP's voted for it. While these votes sufficed for the ratification, the pact failed to become a symbol of Iraq’s unity.

The Washington pundits have already rushed to explain that some provisions of the pact are open to interpretation – specifically, the provision barring the U.S. from launching military attacks from Iraqi territory into third countries, such as Syria and Iran.

An authoritative Pentagon official (who preferred to remain anonymous) declared that the neighboring states could be defensively attacked if they pose a threat to the United States. Experts anticipate that Washington will offer its own interpretation of the provision that allows Iraq to prosecute members of the U.S. troops for crimes committed in Iraq. Most likely, the United States will not let Baghdad exercise its jurisdiction over American soldiers.