Thursday, October 06, 2005

Iraq: No SOFA to Rest On

What's the status of American forces in Iraq? They're targets, they're peacemakers, they're nation builders -- or at least they're trying to be. But are they legal? We do not have now, and never have had, a "status of forces agreement" with any Iraqi government. The United Nations resolution that legitimizes the Coalition's presence expires at the end of this year. (Now there's a timetable for withdrawal...) As I was reading back through transcripts of remarks by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his visit to Baghdad in July, this passage kind of hit me over the head:

"SEC. RUMSFELD: (Inaudible) -- lawyers working on all of this. They have been for five or six months, and what you need is as you go from the period where the United States is in charge to a period where you have the Iraqi Governing Council, to the period now where they're -- (inaudible) -- many, many months ago -- (inaudible) -- a new constitution, and then ultimately a new government, what you have to do is constantly rearrange your legal circumstance -- (inaudible) -- situation. We've been operating under a U.N. Security Council Resolution. We may very well have, they may decide to extend the resolution in some way, if that's the preference of the Iraqi government. We may end up with a status of forces agreement which we have with dozens and dozens and dozens of countries around the world. We're sorting through those things as to how they're to be arranged."

I was told by a State Department official in 2003 that part of the Pentagon's grand design in the months after the invasion was to get the U.S.-appointed Iraqi governing council to sign off on a SOFA with very favorable terms for a long-term American presence. But that didn't work out, probably because the Ayatollah Sistani wouldn't buy it. That's one reason why last year's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, particularly paragraphs 10 and 12, is so important. As Rumsfeld noted, when it expires "we may very well have ... [one has a sense he stopped himself here] ... they may decide to extend the resolution in some way, if that's the preference of the Iraqi government."
In fact, from the earliest days of the occupation it was obvious that the Pentagon design for Iraqis' security forces included their long-term military dependence on U.S. troops. This was still true last year. The approach today may be different, but as we pursue a policy supposedly based on standing up Iraqi forces so we can stand down, we're paying the price of behaving for so long as if we had the country and its government in our pocket. - CD

Also see:
Shadowland: No Way Out?, 18 Nov 2004
Iraq can't defend itself if U.S. troops leave. That's why no one should believe White House promises to bring the soldiers home soon. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6524206/site/newsweek/

Shadowland: Roughest Region, 7 Aug 2003
Why was the Jordanian Embassy bombed in Baghdad? There may never be a specific answer, but the incident underscores just how long America will have to help the New Iraq defend itself from its neighbors
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3068204/
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