Though Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte claimed that the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government is “close,” the question of troop immunity remains a point of serious contention between the two sides. Serious enough that until the issue is resolved, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says there is no timetable for completing the agreement.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s key adviser Abbas al-Bayati claims that the US has agreed to demands granting US soldiers full immunity only for crimes committed on bases or during joint military operations. Negroponte would not discuss the details of the negotiations.
The Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, would govern the operation of US forces in Iraq past the end of 2008, when a UN mandate expires. But with less than three months remaining to complete and ratify the deal, several obstacles yet remain. Though the Bush Administration has claimed they need no Congressional approval for the agreement Prime Minister Maliki is liable to face considerably more opposition if, as a leaked draft version suggested, he intends to circumvent the Iraqi parliament as well.
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker blamed Iran for blocking the deal, though Prime Minister Maliki insisted that there were serious differences of opinion about the content of the agreement. Another key disagreement was over the timeline for troop withdrawal. The United States was reportedly resistant to Iraq’s demand for a firm 2011 deadline for troop presence. Iraq appears to have backed off this demand somewhat, with Minister Zebari saying that any timetable would not be binding if security conditions worsened.