The SOFA Agreement: A More Concrete Analysis

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has put out a more comprehensive in-depth analysis of the Status of Forces Agreement recently signed by the United States and Iraq. Previously, this blog had cautioned doubt and offered counterpoints by the British Socialist Worker as open ended questions of contemplation. It would not be outrageous to suspect that the agreement does not in full respect the sovereignty of Iraq given the historical veins of the Platt Amendment. However, as no secondary attestation could be found for some of the claims made by SW’s analysis, the questions were indeed left open accordingly.

So is the SOFA Agreement the New Platt Amendment? Let us return to that question with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. They lay out the good and the bad as follows: [bold added for emphasis]

  • The agreement represents a stunning reversal in policy for the Bush administration, which until now rejected any timeline for troop withdrawals.
  • The Bush administration has fallen in line behind the policy of President-elect Barack Obama, who has proposed removing U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.
  • While opponents of any long-term accord feared that President Bush was trying to tie the hands of the next president, the agreement eliminates that concern by giving President-elect Obama flexibility to change or cancel the agreement.
  • The accord reinforces the views held by the majority of Iraqis and Americans that it is time for U.S. military forces to leave Iraq.
  • The agreement bars permanent American bases in Iraq, prohibits the United States from using Iraqi territory to launch attacks against other nations, and bars any residual U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the end of 2011.
  • Downsides include both the Bush administration’s refusal to send the agreement to Congress for approval and various ambiguities in the text that could lead to future disputes.
  • Overall, the agreement marks the beginning of the end for major U.S. military operations in Iraq, with the pace and specifics to be worked out once the Obama administration takes office.

With those points in brief, the SOFA agreement appears to not be as cynical as I first suspected. Contrary to the claims of the Socialist Worker, the Center’s analysis in brief states that the military bases in Iraq can not be permanent! This is a tremendous victory for the anti-war movement that long held that any withdrawal of troops would be insufficient if the U.S. military maintained its bases in Iraq as a defacto means of eternal occupation. Secondly, the refusal of Iraq to allow its territory as a launching base for attacks on countries such as Syria is prohibited. These are key concessions for the U.S. indeed. Of course, not everything is cut and dry. Obama’s Iraq policy articulated prior to the SOFA agreement stated a need for a “residual” force in Iraq. How will this pan out with SOFA’s demand that all forces – residual or otherwise – get out of Iraq by 2011?

In assessing the “Bad” of the SOFA agreement, the chief concern that the Center lays out in its analysis is the vague language surrounding the U.S. and security commitments to Iraq: [bold added for emphasis]

The vague language in the SOFA raises the specter of Iraqi leaders trying to use U.S. armed forces to advance their own sectarian interests. If the elected Iraqi government was forced out by violence, the vague security commitment in the SOFA might be interpreted as requiring the United States to intervene to restore the elected government or to oust a government – even a stable government – that came to power through undemocratic means. Finally, the SOFA cements the U.S. commitment to “supplying and arming Iraqi Security Forces.”

This is indeed most troubling as it invites either direct U.S. intervention or indirect meddling through supplying arms to designated proxy forces. Just as there is flexibility with SOFA that does not tie the incoming Obama administration’s hands in Iraq, there is equal flexibility in terms of vague provisions allowing for U.S. military presence to interfere with Iraqi sovereignty without regard to the firm timeline for withdrawal. The SOFA agreement does not find favor with the Sadrist Movement and many political Sunnis in the parliament and there are many provisions that violate the principles of Iraqi sovereignty – indeed, most blatantly as it extends the occupation of Iraq for three more years. It is truly an imperfect document, however, the concessions the U.S. has made on troop withdrawal timelines and permanent bases are to be understood as gains for the anti-war movement in both countries. Caution is always needed, however, and there is an abundance of reasons to be so towards the SOFA agreement, but the dynamics of the game are in shift, and whatever the fate of Iraq under SOFA is, whether it is passed in parliament or not, agitation for full sovereign integrity must not cease one iota until this tragic war is finally over and the spirit of the Platt Amendment is hollowed in the desert sands.

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