A SOFA that’s not so comfy

As the media frenzy focuses on the windup of the Democratic presidential primary and the beginning of the GE contest between McCain and Obama, an important issue is flying under the radar. It is called a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and many supporters of Obama will be dismayed by the limitations that it might place on a new president’s ability to end the war in Iraq. Why, you might ask? What has this SOFA got to do with bringing the troops home in 16 months, as Obama has promised? The answer, unfortunately, is everything.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that has been negotiated between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is a blueprint for continued American military presence in Iraq. Not a comfortable SOFA for those Americans hoping that a swift resolution of the Iraq occupation once a new American President is inaugurated on January 20, 2009.

The Bush administration is not planning to submit the SOFA to the U.S. Senate for ratification, claiming that the SOFA is not a treaty and therefore Senate approval is not required. The Democratic leadership of Congress may disagree but has not yet figured out how to NOT RATIFY an agreement that has not been presented to them. On the other hand the Bush administration is in a hurry to get this done before the election, especially since the legal status of the U.S. as an occupying power cannot continue beyond next year when the U.N. authorization runs out.

However, in a twist that is puzzling to U.S. Senators charged with giving “advice and consent” to treaties under Article 2, section 2, paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution, it seems that the SOFA must be ratified by the Iraqi government, even if a similar process is asserted to be not needed in the U.S. Senate. And it is the Iraqi government that is finding it difficult to reach agreement among all its many warring factions to ratify the SOFA. According to Juan Cole (writing on his blog Informed Consent http://www.juancole.com/ )

The negotiations have produced a sharp reaction from a broad cross-section of the Iraqi public, Sunni and Shiite, and different factions of the Shiites. The US embassy is trying to blame Iran for all this, but the allegation won’t wash. Iran does oppose the pact, but so do lots of Iraqis, including close US allies in Iraq and the nativist urban slum youth of the Sadr Movement, who don’t even like Iran.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis have united to reject the draft of a security agreement proposed by the United States.

If nothing else, the United States has found a way to unite the Iraqi factions on this one issue at least: opposition to the SOFA.

A quick examination of the proposed SOFA reveals why the Iraqis have deep-rooted objections to its adoption. At base, the SOFA is antithetical to Iraq’s status as a sovereign nation. Just look at the many ways that the SOFA infringes on Iraqi sovereignity, according to Juan Cole:

  • A high-level Iraqi source told the pan-Arab London daily that one point of dispute is that the US wants its troops to have complete freedom of movement in the country, whereas the Iraqis want it to be limited.
  • The Americans are said to be seeking to retain the right to dominate Iraqi air space up to 29,000 feet, and to gain open access to the land, air and water of Iraq.
  • The US wants to retain the right to arrest and detain any Iraqi whom the US believes represents a security threat.
  • Washington desires the right to launch military operations to chase terrorists without seeking Iraqi government permission.
  • The US wants immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for American troops, contractors and corporations in Iraq.
  • The US also wants to retain the right to define terrorism against Iraq. It does not want to give any undertaking that it will defend Iraq from any outside attack unless it is convinced about the nature of that attack. Likewise it is not offering to safeguard the democratic regime in Iraq.

In addition, the U.S. would have the right to maintain 50 permanent military bases in Iraq. The U.S. would lease but not own the bases, to maintain the fiction that the Maliki’s puppet government was really in charge of a sovereign nation, not a country under the heel of a foreign occupier.

Reading through this list, it is easy to see why the Iraqis might not be happy with this SOFA and why they might be united in their opposition to it because it would allow the U.S. forces, both regular military and contractors, to continue to ride roughshod over the Iraqi people.  The Bush administration gets a fig leaf that enables it to continue its current policies of endless war and endless occupation.

However, whoever takes office as president on January 20, 2009 will find that the SOFA limits his policy options toward Iraq, making it difficult to withdraw U.S. troops for any reason, including an natural disaster at home or an international crisis in another part of the world.

The U.S. Senate must find a way to play their historic and constitutional role in considering and perhaps rejecting the SOFA. The next president’s hands must not be tied by this SOFA without the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. Are you listening, Joe Biden? What about you Harry Reid? At least a Senate resolution can be tried as a way to stop this. You can’t rely on the Iraqis alone to stop this from happening.

Explore posts in the same categories: Democrats, diplomacy, Iran, Iraq, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, Middle East, Nuri Al-Maliki, Obama, politics, Status of Forces Agreement

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