Iraq’s SOFA: What Changed, What Didn’t, and What Iraqi Officials Are Saying About It

The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the latest draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) being negotiated between the United States and Iraq and has made available a collection of excerpts translated from Arabic into English. The excerpts provide specific information about several speculated clauses in the deal:

Immunity for US Troops and Contractors:

The United States retains judicial jurisdiction over its forces and civilian contractors of the Department of Defense for incidents taking place inside agreed-upon facilities and during missions. Iraq has jurisdiction over them “in respect of premeditated and gross felonies” outside of the facilities and when not on a mission.

This is largely in keeping with previous reports on the terms for troops. Iraq also has complete jurisdiction over other US contractors not mentioned above and their employees.

Operational Control and Command:

All military operations are to be “carried out with the agreement of the Iraqi government and full coordination with Iraqi authorities.” A joint committee will be established to coordinate the operations. All the operations will have to be compatible with Iraq’s laws and constitution. Iraq will also assume complete responsibility for “control and monitoring of Iraqi air space” as soon as the agreement goes into force.

Searches and Detentions:

US forces will no longer have authorization to arrest or detain anyone, except with an Iraqi issued order. In that event, the US is required to hand over the detainee “to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours of their detention or arrest.” US forces will also no longer be allowed to search homes without a court order, except during coordinated combat missions.

The Timeline:

The SOFA specifically says “US forces withdraw from Iraqi territory by Dec. 31, 2011, at the latest.” Forces will also be withdrawn from Iraqi cities and villages no later than June 30, 2009, or when Iraqi forces take control of security there. It does leave open the possibility of troops remaining beyond the deadline “for the purposes of training and supporting Iraqi security forces,” if the Iraqi government so chooses.

Either party can withdraw US forces before the date, and the draft also specifies that “the United States acknowledges the Iraqi government’s sovereign right to request the departure of US forces from Iraq at any time.”

The Ratification:

Incredibly, the terms of the ratification appear identical to a previous draft leaked over a month ago, requiring only the exchange of diplomatic notes assuring the constitutionality of the ratification between the two parties for the agreement to come into force.

It has been speculated that under these terms Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could bypass parliament by simply claiming the agreement is a bilateral executive agreement not subject to parliamentary oversight. The Bush Administration has similarly claimed the agreement is an executive agreement and that Congressional approval will not be sought for it.

This seems a dangerous route for the Prime Minister to take, particularly with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani insisting on parliamentary approval of the agreement. His office has insisted on multiple occasions that the pact would be sent to parliament for a vote, and that he might even withhold a draft unless he was confident of a two-thirds majority in the vote.

What They’re Saying:

Much of Iraq’s government and opposition is arrayed against the present draft and Iraq’s Council of Ministers, one of the pact’s first stops on its way to parliament, has unanimously agreed that amendments need to be made to the agreement as presently written.

Political analyst Ibrahim al-Somaidaee, however, urged the Iraqi government to accept the pact while it still could, citing unprecedented concessions giving the Iraqi government significant authority over US forces. He warned that “neither Obama nor McCain will accept this issue” in the way President Bush is willing to.

To a Kurdistan Islamic Union MP however, the agreement is basically dead in the water. He urged the Bush Administration to stop pressing Iraqi factions to support the deal, saying “it is impossible (for the pact) to be signed and approved by the Parliament in the remaining months of the current year or during the remaining period of President Bush’s term.”

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.