Iraqi Cabinet Approves SOFA With U.S.

How long it will last is anybody’s guess.

The Real News analyzes the agreement in a discussion with Sabah al-Nasseri, Professor of Political Science (Middle East Politics) at York University, Toronto, and previously Lecturer of Political Science at the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt.

Real News: November 18, 2008 – 12 minutes

Iraqi cabinet accepts US agreement

Sabah al-Nasseri: Strong nationalist movement has mobilized against the agreement, and they have guns.

The Iraqi cabinet agreed by a vote of 27-1 on Sunday to approve the newest US draft of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries.

The agreement speaks to a variety of issues concerning the occupation, including the complete withdrawal from Iraq of US forces by the end of 2011. Moreover, it includes a promise from the US to not use Iraqi territory as a launch pad to attack inside other Middle-eastern countries, as it did in late October during a raid on a village inside Syria.

Sabah al-Nasseri believes that the Iraqi parliament will eventually turn down the agreement for political reasons, in the interests of securing one with Barack Obama when he comes to power in January.

The timing is important as the Iraqi provincial elections, which are extremely significant given the power granted provinces under the Iraqi constitution, will take place on January 31.

Sabah believes that the importance of fairing well in those elections will force the parliament to reject an agreement which has received the rebuke of numerous groups, both religious and secular, who have organized massive protests over recent weeks.

One piece of the agreement that very few people are talking about, which Sabah believes has angered many nationalists of all stripes, is the labeling of any armed resistance against occupation forces as terrorists, thereby criminalizing their activities under Iraqi law.

Sabah believes that the most recent violence in Iraq was carried out by secular nationalists who are opposed to the deal, given that the targets of the attacks were all US and Iraqi government elements.

Sabah, who was born and raised in the Southern Iraqi city of Basra, reiterates his support for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign occupiers, believing that the violence in Iraq stems from the occupation.

On the flip, Tina Susman reporting from Baghdad for the LA Times, has put together A guide to the U.S. security agreement with Iraq:

As Iraq’s parliament plans to vote on a deal that would set Dec. 31, 2011, as the end date for U.S. occupation, The Times answers questions about the pact.

By Tina Susman, LA Times Staff Writer

November 18, 2008

Reporting from Baghdad — Iraq’s parliament Monday began considering a security agreement that will determine the future of American forces in the country and, if approved, set Dec. 31, 2011, as the end date for the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Cabinet approved the pact Sunday. The next step is a vote on the accord by the 275-seat legislature, expected in the next week. Here are answers to some of the questions most often asked about the pact.

What is the agreement?

The Status of Forces Agreement, commonly known as SOFA, is the legal documentation needed for American troops to remain in Iraq past Dec. 31 of this year, the date the United Nations mandate governing their presence expires. SOFA deals strictly with the security aspects of the U.S. presence. A separate agreement known as the Strategic Framework covers economic, cultural, technical and other issues. It is part of the package of legislation before the Iraqi parliament that includes SOFA.

How was the deal reached?

The process began more than a year ago when leaders of both countries declared their commitment to drafting the framework for a long-term relationship. Formal talks were launched in March. At the end of May, the talks reached what both sides have described as a dead end over contentious issues. Negotiators began fresh discussions that lasted through the summer and led to a SOFA draft in October. Iraq’s Cabinet demanded about 100 changes to the draft, some small and some large. After more negotiations, a final deal was reached this month. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his Cabinet gave their approval over the weekend and passed it on to the parliament.

What were the sticking points?

The major ones involved timing for the withdrawal of American forces, and the question of whether American troops could be prosecuted by Iraqi courts for alleged crimes committed against Iraqis. Other areas of disagreement involved the future of Iraqi detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq, and the question of whether Iraq has the right to inspect weapons and other packages arriving in the country for American troops.

How were the main issues resolved?

U.S. officials made a major concession on the timing question. They originally rejected a firm withdrawal date and suggested a vague “time horizon” for the U.S. pullout, based on conditions on the ground. They also spoke of extending the U.S. presence until 2015. The final plan calls for U.S. combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities, towns and villages by next July, and for all U.S. troops to be gone from the country by Dec. 31, 2011. The dates are not “conditions-based.” Iraq gave way on jurisdiction, dropping its demand for the right to try American troops for alleged crimes committed against Iraqis. Instead, a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee will examine individual cases involving Americans accused of committing such crimes while off base, and decide who has jurisdiction. The Americans agreed to relinquish control to Iraqi authorities of about 16,000 Iraqis held in U.S. custody in the country; and Iraq won the right to inspect incoming packages.

Who opposes the pact and why?

The leading critics are Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr; the main Sunni Arab political bloc in parliament; and Iran and Syria. Sadr has long demanded the ouster of American forces and says they should leave when the U.N. mandate expires next month. Iran and Syria, which Washington accuses of fomenting violence inside Iraq, also want U.S. forces to leave as soon as possible. Sunni leaders have said the pact is too important a matter not to be voted on in a public referendum.

Could opponents derail the plan?

It’s doubtful they could stop it in parliament, because neither the Sadr bloc nor the Sunnis have enough seats to vote it down. However, the Sadrists made it clear Monday that they would attempt to stall debate by demanding legislation that could require a two-thirds majority vote, rather than a simple majority, to approve the pact. The Sunnis could derail the pact if Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni who sits on the nation’s three-member Presidency Council, opted to use his veto powers to prevent it from being signed into law once passed by parliament. That would force U.S. and Iraqi officials to scramble for an alternative plan.

Does the pact affect non-U.S. troops in the country?

No. There are only a few thousand non-American troops here now, and most plan to leave by the end of the year. The biggest non-U.S. force is Britain’s, which numbers about 4,000 and is negotiating its own pact with Iraq.

What happens now?

Parliament had its first “reading” of the pact Monday, when it received the package but did not discuss it. Debate begins this week, with a vote anticipated by Nov. 25.

What if it fails?

If it fails, U.S. forces will have to halt operations in Iraq at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, unless the U.N. mandate could be extended beforehand.


    • Edger on November 19, 2008 at 1:30 am

    Bush’s parting gift to Iraqis?

  1. … if the Senate asserted itself and said it has to ratify this treaty?

    Do we want our troops there for 3 more years?  I’m hoping Obama sticks to his timetable, but he needs to hear from us.


  2. Check this out (and, believe me, it would not, in the least bit, surprise me.)

    Iraqis Believe Americans Bombing Them to Promote SOFA

    Submitted by davidswanson on Sat, 2008-11-15 20:17.

    Check out report on NY Times website before Times deletes it.

    And here are the changes from previous versions to the SOFA Agreement.

    I truly believe that since it’s not something the Iraqis REALLY want, I think the Agreement might easily be broken.  On the other hand, if our government is intent on remaining there ad infinitum, I’m sure they’ll always find a way to muscle their way through to that and more!  

    I think Obama, himself, truly wants an end to the Iraq mess, it remains to be seen if he can pull it off!

Comments have been disabled.