Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen issued an unusually harsh warning to Iraq regarding the growing resistance to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Though he acknowledged that Iraq should engage in “a healthy debate” on the pact, he said he was “increasingly concerned” by the public criticisms of the latest draft, and cautioned the Iraqis that they are “running out of time” to approve the deal.
This weekend, Iraq’s ruling coalition said that it would seek amendments to the latest draft of the deal, a draft previously reported to be the final one. The agreement has sparked massive opposition protests and has been criticized by influential Iraqi religious leaders both Sunni and Shi’ite, including today when Ayatollah Sayyed Kazem al-Husseini al-Haeri issued a fatwa condemning the pact as “humiliating.”
But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that the US was reluctant “to engage further in the drafting process,” warning that the US would suspend military operations in the country unless Iraq agreed to the deal or got the UN to renew its mandate for US troops by the end of the year.
Instead, Gates advised letting “the Iraqi political process play out.” But in the week since the present draft was announced to be completed, the political process has taken the situation from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talking about the struggle for a two-thirds majority in parliament to the Iraqi Council of Ministers, who needs to sign off on the deal before it can even be submitted to parliament, unanimously demanding changes to the agreement, suggesting momentum is not on the secretary’s side.