Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, visiting Washington DC as part of a delegation aiming to rescue the faltering Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Iraq, has dropped something of a bombshell as the Washington Times reports that he told them he would be happy to host the US forces if the Iraqi government refuses to do so.
President Barzani told the Washington Post that he is “doubtful” the SOFA will pass, echoing the sentiments of most Iraqi officials and the large portion of US officials, though the White House remains optimistic on the deal. At this point it has been reported that only Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan still support the current SOFA draft.
But supporting the SOFA agreement against growing opposition and offering to circumvent it by hosting the 150,000-plus US troops in Kurdistan are two entirely different matters. Former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Feisal Istrabadi says that the Iraqi Constitution places foreign and defense policy firmly under the control of the central government, making it illegal for Barzani to host the US forces without seceding.
Still, the Kurdish Regional Government has bucked the central government on constitutional matters in the past, for instance in signing oil and gas contracts. Congressional Research Service specialist Kenneth Katzman blamed Iranian opposition for the inability to finalize the SOFA, but said that redeploying the entire international force to Kurdistan “would not be a substitute,” adding “you couldn’t accomplish your security mission in the south from bases in the north.”