The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the latest draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Iraq, complete with all the changes requested by Iraq and agreed upon by the United States. Though the AP did not submit the entire draft for public scrutiny, they did describe some of the major differences from the previous one, deemed unacceptable by the Iraqi government.
The Wall Street Journal’s comments on the US response, as mentioned Saturday, seem largely correct. The previously convoluted wording of the terms of the US withdrawal now simply state “United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than Dec. 31, 2011.” This was a key complaint made by opponents of the last draft, though of course nothing would stop the two governments from extending that deadline in a later agreement.
The question of attacks on foreign soil appears to have been answered as well, with a clause declaring “Iraqi land, sea and air shall not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks against other countries.” This was seen as especially important given last month’s US attack on a Syrian border town.
At the same time the wording of that phrase, “attacks against other countries,” may be problematic. It is unclear, for instance, whether this would prohibit the US from exercising its formerly secret military order on launching raids into other countries (which the US might argue weren’t necessarily “against” that country), or whether it simply prohibits the use of Iraqi territory for formal invasions of its neighbors.
No significant changes are reported to have been made to the SOFA’s clause on US troop immunity, however: the previous draft appeared to allow the US to determine when its forces would or would not be subject to Iraqi courts simply by declaring the troops “on-duty” during a crime.
It is unclear whether these SOFA changes will be sufficient to sway the Iraqi government to ratify the deal before the end of the year. Shi’ite clerics already condemned the response in Friday sermons, and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi says he wants the deal put to a public referendum, a virtual impossibility if it is to be completed in the next month and a half.