New Years Day in Iraq: Major Changes for US Troops

The current UN mandate for international troops in Iraq is set to expire on December 31, and as the United States and Iraq still struggle to put a mutually acceptable Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place, the focus is increasingly on what will happen January 1 if, as is looking increasingly likely, the Iraqi government is unwilling to ratify the deal.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned the Iraqis that if they decline the draft, American forces would “basically stop doing anything” in the country. But whether the SOFA is approved or not, the new year seems almost certain to bring dramatic changes in US military operations in Iraq.

The current draft of the SOFA, which the US says it is reluctant to entertain further amendments to, already restricts American operations in several significant ways. All military operations would be carried out with the agreement of the Iraqi government, the US would lose all authority to search homes and detain people outside of Iraqi law, and the Iraqi government would also gain jurisdiction over US military personnel in the event of “gross felonies” committed off-base.

And if they don’t approve the SOFA, US troops would lose all legal authority to operate in the country at all. In the absence of a new UN mandate, US troops would be confined to their bases and Iraqi government forces would be left to their own devices.

Of course, Iraq may ask the United Nations Security Council to extend the present mandate for the time being. But if Iraqi officials find the current SOFA draft unacceptable, it seems like extending the mandate, which gives them considerably less control over security, would be even less appealing. Russia has said they will not, as previously speculated, oppose an extended mandate so long as the Iraqi government requests it.

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.