The Bush administration is currently negotiating a long-term Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, which would codify “legal protections for U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq” after 2008, when a U.N. security mandate runs out. People in both Iraq and the United States have criticized the deal’s sweeping demands, including 58 permanent bases, “control of Iraqi airspace,” and immunity for U.S. troops and private contractors.
Because of these demands, Iraqi officials said they were likely to miss a July target for coming to an agreement. New remarks by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reveal, however, that U.S. negotiators have finally backed down and conceded that the estimated 160,000 foreign contractors in Iraq would no longer have immunity.
Additionally, the Bush administration has consistently insisted that it doesn’t need congressional approval for the deal. Yet it appears that this stance was nothing more than posturing, as officials are now reworking the agreement with new language in order to actually avoid going before Congress:
U.S. and Iraqi officials negotiating long-term security agreements have reworded a proposed White House commitment to defend Iraq against foreign aggression in an effort to avoid submitting the deal for congressional approval, Iraq’s foreign minister said yesterday.
The alternative under discussion will pledge U.S. forces to “help Iraqi security forces to defend themselves,” rather than a U.S. promise to defend Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. Although “it’s the other way around,” he said, “the meaning is the same, almost.”
As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence J. Korb notes, traditionally, SOFAs provide a “framework for legal protections and rights while U.S. personnel are present in a country for agreed on purposes”; they do not, either directly or indirectly, pledge to defend a foreign government:
The fact that the administration does not intend to submit the agreement for congressional approval is a testament to their own recognition of how the broad the implications of this agreement are and what type of debate it would spark on Capitol Hill and in the country.
As ThinkProgress has noted in the past, this broad SOFA with Iraq may be the Bush administration’s roundabout way of authorizing war with Iran.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has put out a statement on Zebari’s remarks:
Altering the language so as to disguise the true nature of a permanent American commitment to Iraq is irresponsible in the extreme. It is for precisely this reason I have called on the Administration to engage in more frequent and more frank consultations with the Congress as these negotiations move forward.