SOFA stalemate

 In Iraq

The US is having a difficult time pushing through a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, with only ten weeks left before the UN mandate allowing the US presence expires. While Defense Secretary Robert Gates is happy with the agreement in its current form, the Iraqi government wants to reopen negotiations:

In a sign of growing unease with the proposed security agreement between the United States and Iraq, the Iraqi cabinet said Tuesday that it would demand changes to the deal and key Iraqi leaders said it was important to have a backup plan in case there was too much opposition for the pact to win approval.

Several senior members of Parliament said there were worries that the agreement left too much leeway for the Americans to stay in Iraq beyond the scheduled deadline for withdrawal in 2011.

The government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that “the cabinet has agreed unanimously that the necessary amendments to the draft could make it nationally acceptable.” He did not specify what the amendments were.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was traveling in Latvia, issued a stark warning to the Iraqis to think hard before rejecting the agreement. In some of the sharpest comments to date from the American side, he said that Iraqi Army and police forces would not be able to counter insurgent and terrorist violence after Dec. 31 without the help of the American military. The Iraqis, he said, “will not be ready to provide for their own security.”

You can read an unofficial English translation of the US-Iraq draft agreement here.

While the Iraqi parliament will have an opportunity to debate the agreement, the US Congress currently has no powers of oversight on a pact that could significantly impact the next administration’s foreign policy.  There is existing legislation requiring congressional approval of any bilateral agreement between the US and Iraq, but it remains to be seen whether Congress will act on this issue after the election.

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  • libhomo

    I haven’t seen anything on congressional approval of SOFA, which leads me to think that it is not binding on the US…at least until it has been voted on in the House and Senate.

  • Rebecca Griffin

    Generally speaking SOFAs are negotiated by the executive branch and don’t need to be approved by Congress. The difference, of course, is that we are occupying Iraq, unlike other countries where we have existing SOFAs.
    The argument many members of Congress are making is that this should not be treated as a regular SOFA, but should go through an approval process in Congress. At this point, however, there has been no major move by Congress to try to exert that kind of authority.

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