Few Points about SOFA

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hossein Rouyvaran

After year-long discussions and debates on the proposed security agreement between Iraq and the US, the Iraqi cabinet finally approved the accord and sent it to the parliament for a final decision. Different opinions have been expressed about the agreement and its consequences have been evaluated in different ways. The following points can be mentioned about the Baghdad-Washington security agreement known as the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA):

1. Delegation of the agreement to the Iraqi parliament does not necessarily mean that it would be adopted by the house because the 275-seat Iraqi parliament includes various political spectrums and the ruling coalition is just part of the parliamentary force.

There are numerous forces inside the parliament who are outside the ruling coalition and opposed to finalization of SOFA. They include the current led by Muqtada Sadr; the nationalists and even certain currents originating from the (Shia) national coalition; or the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunnis) which are part of the ruling coalition. Therefore, the approval of SOFA at the Iraqi parliament would not be without problem and opposition.

Some political analysts are of the belief that the delegation of SOFA to the parliament means that the Iraqi government does not fully support the agreement. The aim is rather to transfer the center of decision making from a limited group (government) which is under growing pressures from the occupiers to a bigger assembly (parliament) which is under lesser direct American pressure.

This decision is tactical with an aim to increase the domain for maneuvering of the Iraqi government vis-à-vis the imposed agreement. Moreover, a final decision about such a sensitive issue should be made by authoritative religious sources. The religious authority in Iraq has emphasized so far that it would not accept any accord which violated the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and did not ensure troop withdrawal by the occupier forces. Undoubtedly, the opinion of the Iraqi religious source about the final text of the agreement and whether it would respect certain rules is of high significance and would overshadow the viewpoint of various political parties.

2. The content of the security agreement sent to the parliament for final approval is very different from the text proposed by the Americans a year ago. The US was trying to institutionalize its permanent military presence in Iraq in the final text of the agreement but in the new text they have been obligated to pull out troops from Iraq by 2011. Also in the original text, the US had tried to act as a successor to the Iraqi government in various dimensions, particularly in terms of sovereignty. The US intended to maintain sovereignty over the Iraqi air space up to a height of 29000 feet; secure full judicial immunity for its troops as well as for the parties dealing with the American army; have full freedom of action in conducting military operations inside Iraq and against outsiders; and detain and jail individuals with any nationality. But in the revised text, the dominant spirit is based on respect for sovereignty of the Iraqi government or at least the Baghdad government would be the main source of reference in most of these cases.

3. Although the Iraqi government succeeded through resistance and perseverance to revise the content of the security agreement seven times in its own favor and has turned down US requests to sign it over the past year despite different pressures, however even the latest revised agreement still does not meet all the demands of the Iraqi people.

So far, the source to decide possible violations of the agreement is not clear nor is the source to investigate them. It is also unclear how the US would fulfill its promises to Iraq particularly in releasing Iraq from under Chapter 7 and unblocking its assets.

Therefore, the final agreement still contains ambiguities and could provide the grounds for Washington to violate the sovereignty of the Baghdad government and also threaten the security of its neighbors. It is perhaps for the same reason that some Iraqi political forces still regard the signing of the agreement a treason and have invited the Iraqi people to hold massive demonstrations against SOFA.


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