The Bush Administration and Iraqi negotiators may have completed a final draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), but its prospects for approval in the Iraqi parliament seem to grow more questionable by the minute.
Aides of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki say that he will only submit the agreement to parliament if he is convinced it will receive two thirds support, unlikely given the growing split between Maliki’s Dawa Party and rival Shi’ite faction the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The split may threaten the coalition government after the next round of elections, but votes on the controversial SOFA will likely be a first test of how strong the ties between the two remain.
But while Maliki hopes to keep his coalition together by reconciling with the bloc of MPs still loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, they are unlikely to help the Prime Minister rescue the faltering SOFA before the December 31 deadline given outspoken opposition from Sadr’s supporters. The bloc was also invited to a meeting to discuss the pact, but declined to attend, claiming the pact aims at “legitimizing the presence of occupation troops” and that they don’t believe there is a reason for foreign troops to remain in the country.
If Iraq is unable to approve the SOFA by the deadline, they will reportedly consider asking the United Nations Security Council to renew its mandate for foreign forces to remain in the country. Getting Security Council approval for the continued presence may be difficult given the increasing tense relations between the United States and Russia.
US Senators have expressed concern with subjecting US troops to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for crimes committed off duty and off base, though Defense Secretary Robert Gates is attempting to reassure them that it provides “adequately” for the protection of troops. Administration officials have said repeatedly that they don’t intend to submit the deal to Congress for approval, making the Senate concerns little more than an aside.