Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The SOFA -- it's not a fold-out

Iraqi lawmakers say the United States is demanding 58 bases as part of a proposed "status of forces" agreement that will allow U.S. troops to remain in the country indefinitely.
Leading members of the two ruling Shiite parties said in a series of interviews the Iraqi government rejected this proposal along with another U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq. Lawmakers said they fear this power would drag Iraq into a war between the United States and Iran.
"The points that were put forth by the Americans were more abominable than the occupation," said Jalal al Din al Saghir, a leading lawmaker from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "We were occupied by order of the Security Council," he said, referring to the 2004 Resolution mandating a U.S. military occupation in Iraq at the head of an international coalition. "But now we are being asked to sign for our own occupation. That is why we have absolutely refused all that we have seen so far."
Other conditions sought by the United States include control over Iraqi air space up to 30,000 feet and immunity from prosecution for U.S. troops and private military contractors. The agreement would run indefinitely but be subject to cancellation with two years notice from either side, lawmakers said.

The above is from Leila Fadel's "U.S. seeking 58 bases in Iraq, Shiite lawmakers say" (McClatchy Newspapers). Rob Corbidge's "Foreign briefing" (The Scotsman) covers the story as well:

THE most obvious physical legacy of a successful intervention by the US in a foreign country is the presence of its military bases.
Germany, Japan and South Korea are the best examples of this, continuing to host a large American military contingent many years after their original arrival. Vietnam is an obvious example of the reverse.
The current UN mandate for the presence of foreign soldiers in Iraq expires at the end of 2008.
The Americans and the Iraqi government are trying to seal a deal within the next six weeks that would decide on the terms of a continued US deployment -- what is called a Status of Forces Agreement.

It's really not a Status of Forces Agreement that's being pursued to replaced the UN authorization that expires at the end of the year. It's a treaty. But by pretending it's a SOFA, the White House hopes to circumvent the Constitutionally mandate that the Senate must approve all treaties. In The Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi's "Talks to keep U.S. troops in Iraq provoke ire" uses the terms agreement and accord to try to explain the two things going on but then quickly throws in the towel:

The US-Iraq security accord was at the center of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit Sunday to Tehran, where he tried to assuage Iranian leaders' concerns about a permanent US presence on their doorstep. "We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran," Mr. Maliki said, according to IRNA, the state-run Iranian news service.
The Maliki government wants the agreement with the US to replace a United Nations mandate for the stationing of foreign forces in the country, which expires at year's end. But its growing economic and political relationship with Tehran is testing its ability to simultaneously pursue a US-Iraqi accord.
Two accords are actually being negotiated – a status-of-forces agreement setting rules for a US military presence in Iraq and a broader "framework agreement" defining the long-term security, political, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries.

The two were best explained by Senator Joe Biden April 10th, in the Committee on Foreign Relations (which Biden chairs):

We will hear today about the two agreements that the Administration is negotiating with Iraq which were anticipated in the November Declaration. On Tuesday, Ambassador Crocker told us that these agreements would set forth the "vision" -- his phrase -- of our bilateral relationship with Iraq. One agreement is a "strategic framework agreement" that will include the economic, political and security issues outlined in the Declaration of Principles. The document might be better titled "What the United States will do for Iraq," because it consists mostly of a series of promises that flow in one direction -- promises by the United States to a sectarian government that has thus far failed to reach the political compromises necessary to have a stable country. We're told that the reason why we're not continuing under the UN umbrella is because the Iraqis say they have a sovereign country. But they don't want a Status of Forces Agreement because that flows two ways. The Administration tells us it's not binding, but the Iraqi parliament is going to think it is. The second agreement is what Administration officials call a "standard" Status of Forces Agreement, which will govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, including their entry into the country and the immunities to be granted to them under Iraqi law. Unlike most SOFAs, however, it would permit U.S. forces -- for the purposes of Iraqi law -- to engage in combat operations and detain insurgents. In other words, to detain people that we think are bad guys. I don't know any of the other nearly 90 Status of Forces Agreements that would allow a U.S. commander to arrest anyone he believes is a bad guy.

Meanwhile AP reports:

The Bush administration is conceding for the first time that the United States might not finish a complex security agreement with Iraq before President Bush leaves office.
Faced with stiff Iraqi opposition, it is "very possible" the United States might have to extend an existing U.N. mandate, said a senior administration official close to the talks. That would mean major decisions about how U.S. forces operate in Iraq could be left to the next president, including how much authority the United States must give Iraqis over military operations and how quickly the handover takes place.

In the New York Times, Nazila Fathi and Richard A. Oppel Jr.'s "U.S. Troops Causing Instability, Iran’s Religious Leader Tells Iraqi Premier" notes:

In Iraq, negotiations over the security pact have become a major political issue, further splitting Shiite allies of Mr. Maliki and the political movement of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric.
The New York Times reported last month that aides to Mr. Maliki from his Dawa Party said that American negotiators were demanding continued control of Iraqi airspace, immunity for American soldiers and security contractors, authority for more than 50 long-term bases, and the right to continue to carry out unimpeded military operations.
Iraqi officials object to those terms, and are particularly insistent about limiting immunity for security contractors and ensuring that future American military operations are restricted and have the blessing of the Iraqi government, according to Ali Adeeb, a senior Dawa official close to Mr. Maliki. Some Iraqi officials have also complained that while the American military would maintain a large presence under the pact, it would not be obligated to protect the Iraqi government from aggression, either from outside or inside its borders.

In the Los Angeles Times, Ashraf Khali follows up yesterday's story with today's "Iran tells Iraq: U.S. troops are 'main obstacle on the way to progress':"

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki concluded a three-day visit to Iran after meeting Monday with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who warned that the continued presence of U.S. troops was "the main obstacle on the way to progress and prosperity in Iraq."
The session with Khamenei, Iran's top religious and political authority, served to further highlight the delicate position of the Iraqi government -- caught between the U.S. and Iran, each seeking to pull Iraq out of the other's sphere of influence.

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howard lafranchi
nazila fathi
richard a. oppel jr.

 ashraf khalil
 the los angeles times