Though Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said last night that the United States had made ‘good concessions’ on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that there are still some points of contention yet to be worked out.
Primary among those appears to be the question of legal immunity for US troops and contractors in Iraq. This contradicts comments earlier this week from top adviser to Prime Minister Maliki, Abbas al-Bayati, who said that the United States had agreed to the Iraqi demands that troops only enjoy immunity for crimes committed on bases or during joint military operations.
Prime Minister Maliki met with influential Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani today in Najaf to discuss the pact. The Ayatollah reportedly did not object to the government’s negotiations, but cautioned that he thought the final agreement needed to be endorsed by parliament.
A leaked draft version of the agreement which came to light last month suggested that Maliki intended to bypass parliamentary approval, as the Bush administration has. The political price of such a move was already considered relatively high for the Iraqi prime minister, though it would be dramatically more so if the enormously powerful Sistani objects to it.
It is unclear how easily the controversial agreement will pass in Iraq’s parliament, or if there is even time remaining at this point for the parliament to properly consider an agreement before the UN mandate expires on December 31.