The Iraqi parliament began debating today on whether or not to approve the controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. The SOFA, which was approved yesterday by the Iraqi cabinet, outlines the terms of the continued US military presence in Iraq in 2009-2011. This latest and final draft is expected to face a very contentious debate, despite most of the proposed amendments from the last draft having been approved by the US.
Of particular issue was firming up the timeline for the deal: the latest draft removed a clause which would allow Iraq to request the presence to continue beyond 2011. The removal of the clause doesn’t preclude the Iraqi government from doing this at a later date, however, and the White House, which has long opposed a firm pullout date, is still describing the dates as “aspirational.”
Another obstacle is the US unwillingness to change a clause on troop immunity: the drafts both allow Iraqi courts jurisdiction over US troops who commit major crimes only if they are off-base and off-duty. The Iraqi government sought to amend this so Iraq could determine when off-base US soldiers are in fact off-duty. A concern with the present wording is that the US can essentially block Iraqi jurisdiction by simply declaring the soldier on-duty after the fact.
Some domestic opposition remains, with Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr among the most vociferous opponents of the deal. The Iraqi Accord Front, a Sunni coalition member has also said it will not support the pact.
Overseas opposition to the pact seems to be fading as well, as top Iranian official Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi praised the Iraqi cabinet for approving the deal. Iran has long been in opposition to a continued US presence, and has been blamed by the US for delays in the pact’s approval.