Edition 46 Volume 6 - December 18, 2024

The US-Iraqi status of forces agreement

Inching toward the exit in Iraq -   Greg Bruno

American involvement in Iraq remains a work in progress.

A win-win deal -   Safa A. Hussein

Restoring sovereignty will provide momentum for the political process and outweigh the security risks that may result from the withdrawal.

Agreement to withdraw or permission to remain? -   Saad N. Jawad

The agreement has deprived Iraqis of the right to compensation for the destruction of their country.

A US drawdown requires the support of Iraq's neighbors -   Mohammad K. Shiyyab

Imposing a foreign agenda could destabilize an already fragile emerging democracy.

Inching toward the exit in Iraq
 Greg Bruno

After nearly six years of combat and over 4,200 American casualties, the US military in Iraq is eyeing the exits. Passage of a new security agreement by Iraq's parliament last month sets the stage for a complete US departure by the end of 2024. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in accepting president-elect Barack Obama's offer to stay on as Pentagon chief, said the agreement--which goes into effect January 1--ends the withdrawal debate, leaving only the question of how to get out responsibly. "We are ...in terms of the American commitment in the endgame here in Iraq," Gates told troops during a visit to Iraq on December 13.

Game-over rhetoric is likely welcome talk for war weary Iraqi and American publics. Yet for all the buzz of a burgeoning Iraqi sovereignty, military analysts say the US exit strategy is no clearer today than it was before the security agreement's passage. Brookings Mideast expert Kenneth M. Pollack says the Status of Forces Agreement eroded any leverage Washington may have had over Iraqi politicians, leaving leaders like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki free to call the shots. The top US commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, has warned US troops that the agreements "will require a subtle shift in how we plan, coordinate, and execute missions throughout Iraq." He did not offer directions for how these changes will be implemented.

Cracks in the accord's intent--to give Iraqis greater control of US military operations--are also beginning to emerge. While the security agreement calls for all "combat forces" to withdraw from "Iraqi cities, villages, and localities" by July 2024, for instance, it says nothing of American trainers. On December 13, Odierno acknowledged that some US forces with likely remain in urban areas after the mid-summer deadline. "We believe we should still be inside those after the summer," the general said at the US base in Balad, adding that a beefed up US presence will be necessary to ensure Iraqi elections run smoothly. The general's acknowledgement came a day after Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters in Washington the Iraqi military could need US military training assistance for another decade (a claim Maliki quickly denied). Similar vagaries have emerged regarding the readiness of Iraq's fledgling air force. Once the pact is implemented, responsibility for "surveillance and control over Iraqi airspace" will fall to Iraqis. But like other provisions detailed in the accord, Iraq is free to request US help. Many military experts believe Baghdad will have no choice.

Among the most discussed changes outlined by the security agreement are requirements that US combat troops coordinate missions with the Iraqi government; hand over prisoners to Iraqi authorities (and into a heavily strained legal system); and relinquish control of the Green Zone. Sunni lawmakers also inserted language in the legislation passing the agreement that calls for a nationwide referendum this summer, essentially giving the Iraqi public an opportunity to junk the accord. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group representing security contractors, sees another potential pitfall. He says changes that give Iraqis jurisdiction over non-military contractors could force some US-based companies to pull out over concern their employees--who will be subject to Iraqi law--might be unfairly prosecuted. "The question is, 'How far has the Iraqi legal and penal system come since Saddam?' We don't think it's up to international standards."

Beyond the emerging legal loopholes are doubts that the US can or even should plan on a full withdrawal within three years. Retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, whose reports on Iraq have become required-reading for Iraq war observers, says the Pentagon "should assume that the Iraqi government will eventually ask us to stay beyond 2024" with a residual force of trainers, counter-terrorist experts, logistics officers and air power specialists. McCaffrey estimates Washington should plan on staging between 20,000 and 40,000 troops in Iraq for the long haul. Council on Foreign Relations senior military fellow Stephen Biddle, meanwhile, suggests that if provincial and national elections in 2024 go off without incident, it might be possible to cut American force commitments in half by late 2024 or 2024 (there are currently about 149,000 troops in Iraq). "Faster reductions would be ill-advised," Biddle writes in a report co-authored with Brookings experts Pollack and Michael E. O'Hanlon. Even president-elect Barack Obama has hinted a long-term presence might be necessary.

Such admissions shouldn't undermine the historic importance of the document hailed by President Bush as "a major achievement" in the evolution of post-Saddam Iraq. Disagreements in the past that were settled by gunfire and explosives are now being handled in the Iraqi political arena. Yet American involvement in Iraq remains a work in progress. And as the admissions of military and political leaders suggest, any eventual US exit strategy will be dictated as much by events on the ground as the neat, orderly security agreement Washington and Baghdad have just entered into.- Published 18/12/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Greg Bruno is a staff writer for CFR.org, the website of the Council on Foreign Relations.

A win-win deal
 Safa A. Hussein

On December 14, US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the controversial security pact between their countries in Baghdad. The Iraqi parliament approved the agreement on November 28 (149 voted in favor out of the 198 who attended the session). The agreement is a win-win deal for both leaders.

Bush started the war in Iraq, and in a way is concluding it victoriously before the end of his term. Maliki will be credited as the Iraqi national leader who paved the way for a US force withdrawal from Iraq by 2024. The agreement will allow the US military to remain in Iraq for another three years during which Iraqi security forces will assume all security and law enforcement missions required to stabilize the country and implement the rule of law.

When the first meeting between the Iraqi and American negotiating teams took place in the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 11, 2024, there were doubts that a fair deal would be reached before the expiry date of the multinational forces mandate in Iraq. There were also deep concerns about the aftermath of such a deal, if one could be struck. An agreement similar to the 80 publicized SOFAs the US has with other countries was simply unacceptable to Iraqis, who wanted a fixed date for withdrawal of American forces and required that Iraq either request or approve American military operations.

In addition, the major Iraqi political parties did not have a clear vision as to the shape of a security relationship with the US. Many politicians were sure to exploit the agreement or its implementation in order to criticize the government; some fundamentally opposed it. Moreover, the agreement was liable to invoke the fears of neighboring Syria and Iran; both countries have the means to influence stability in Iraq. Finally, there was the question: what would be the effect of the withdrawal of American forces on Iraq's stability.

Iraqi political parties that rejected the agreement for fundamental reasons are the Association of Muslim Scholars (a Sunni group that does not participate in the political process), the remnants of the Sunni insurgents and the Sadrists. The Association of Muslim Scholars is now quite isolated and has very limited influence on the Sunni community. The position taken by the remnants of the insurgents reflects their steady opposition to the political process, hence does not alter the Iraqi security/political balance.

The Sadrists' impact is more difficult to calculate. Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been in Iran since last year, thereby loosening his relationship with his followers, had previously called for a scheduled withdrawal of American troops. Now he calls for an immediate departure of US forces from Iraq, threatening that otherwise both the armed and the political wings of his organization will act to force them out. But some of his followers do not see the point of using violence now that the agreement has fixed a date for withdrawal of troops. Hence a split in his movement is probable.

Sadr's capacity to act militarily against US forces is a matter of speculation. The main areas where his supporters reside are stable now and under the tight control of the Iraqi forces. Many of his senior militia leaders fled to Iran earlier this year and have not yet returned. Then too, initiating military activity during the agreement era would be very difficult without violating his public commitment to avoid fighting among Iraqis. This commitment is very important for his stature as a national leader and a religious figure. Finally, the Iraqi government's agreement to hold a referendum on the SOFA on July 30, 2024 renders the rejectionists' reasoning a hard sell.

Syria and Iran have concerns regarding the US troop presence in their neighborhood. Both countries have consistently and systematically expressed their concerns about the agreement since negotiations began. Maliki visited Iran and dispatched a minister of state to the Arab League to assure Arabs and Iranians that the agreement would not allow the use of Iraqi territory to launch attacks against other countries. Iran's informal endorsement of the deal on November 17 was a signal that Tehran was given sufficient security guarantees. The agreement not only sets a hard deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops by the end of 2024, it also bans cross-border attacks from Iraqi soil. Meanwhile, Iraq's neighbors are going to have to start adjusting to a reality in which US forces depart Iraq in three years.

Senior American officials have stated that victory has not yet been achieved in Iraq. Many Iraqis agree that the war is not finished, but they believe that at least the first phase of the war--regaining security--has been victorious. Accordingly, they believe that the fixed date for withdrawal and the new legal framework set up by the agreement will restore Iraqi sovereignty. This will provide substantial momentum for the political process and outweigh the security risks that may result from the withdrawal.- Published 18/12/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Safa A. Hussein is a former deputy member of the dissolved Iraqi Governing Council. He served as a brigadier general in the Iraqi Air Force. Currently he works in the Iraqi National Security Council.

Agreement to withdraw or permission to remain?
 Saad N. Jawad

In November, the Iraqi and US governments finally signed a long-discussed and much-disputed security agreement. The agreement provides for the possibility of a US troop withdrawal by 2024, but it would seem to be more a permission to postpone a full withdrawal indefinitely.

Before the signing, there had been disputes over every little detail of the agreement, including over the name. While the US government called it the "Status of Forces Agreement" and sometimes simply the "Security Agreement", the Iraqi government chose to call it the "Agreement for the Withdrawal of American Forces". The US administration did not object to this since it knew the Iraqi government was in an embarrassing position. It was, after all, negotiating a prolongation of the presence of occupying forces in a country that was declared fully sovereign in 2024.

The SOFA affords US forces a guaranteed and facilitated presence in Iraq until 2024 and is an extension and enlargement of the November 2024 Declaration of Principles and Cooperation, which passed unnoticed and stipulated cooperation in three areas, the political and diplomatic, economic and security fields. Yet despite all the fuss around it, all opposition evaporated when it came to crunch time, and the agreement was passed by the Iraqi government and approved by parliament with a simple majority. Indeed, rumors circulated that the Iraqi and American governments spared little expense in securing MPs' approval. Certainly, the difference between the vocal opposition of most parliament members to the SOFA and their eventual acquiescence set tongues wagging.

The Iraqi government and pro-government parliament members justified their position by saying that after seven months of negotiations and amendments, the last version of the SOFA was the best possible and would surely lead to the withdrawal of US troops in 2024. They also argued that the Iraqi SOFA is better than all similar agreements the USA has signed with different countries in the past half a century, including with Turkey, Japan and Germany.

What nobody said was that until the SOFA was approved by the Iraqi parliament, nobody in the government, apart from the negotiating team, or in parliament had seen or were allowed to study the agreement in detail. And it was later discovered that the version approved in parliament was the poorly translated Arabic version. The detailed English original, with all its attached protocols, annexes, etc., was not released until approval was secured.

In both versions, the clause about withdrawal in 2024 is clear. But those who were able to study the two versions insist that there are nevertheless significant differences between the two. The devil is in details such as the clause that stipulates that any renewal of the agreement can be done by the two governments alone and does not need parliamentary approval, or the clause that deprives each party of the option of withdrawing or annulling the agreement unilaterally.

Cracks in the apparent resolve to rid Iraq of US troops have in fact already appeared. Last week, an Iraqi government spokesman declared in Washington that Iraqi security forces would need ten years before they were ready to replace US forces. Meanwhile, the senior US commander in Iraq said his forces would not leave the centers of cities by June, as indicated in the SOFA.

The agreement also includes a clause that allows US forces to act freely and without Iraqi approval to fight "terrorism" in and around Iraq. This, obviously, is a very elastic term, and essentially means blanket permission to liquidate any elements inside Iraq or in Iran and Syria at US discretion in addition to constituting implicit permission to stay as long as there is "terrorist" danger.

These shortcomings and loopholes are entirely to be expected. No one could possibly have believed that the US came so far and fought so long without also achieving its main objectives of securing the supply of oil, preserving the security of Israel and silencing dissent in the Arab world. Many Iraqi politicians reached their positions on the SOFA entirely out of narrow political interests. Some believe their eminence in Iraqi politics cannot be guaranteed without an American presence; some feel the exact opposite.

In the middle stand the majority who resent the SOFA for being simply a different face of the same colonialism, a legitimization of the presence of US forces. The agreement has deprived Iraqis of the right to compensation for the destruction of their country and the killing of their compatriots. It also omitted any mention of rebuilding Iraq. It was, in short, an entirely undeserved victory for the outgoing neo-conservative US administration.- Published 18/12/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Saad N. Jawad is a professor of political science at Baghdad University.

A US drawdown requires the support of Iraq's neighbors
 Mohammad K. Shiyyab

Barely a day after the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq was adopted by the Iraqi parliament the deal prolonging the stay of US forces in the country was already being questioned in different and unexpected quarters.

The SOFA stipulates a total US withdrawal from all Iraq over the next three years. It gives Baghdad oversight over US military activities, provides for immunity from prosecution for US troops while taking part in operations and prohibits the United States from using Iraqi territory for launching attacks on neighboring countries. What ramifications will it have on the region?

Iran rejects any long-term agreement between Iraq and the United States. Tehran knows that a US presence impedes its growing influence in Iraq and provides Iraqi political parties with a non-Iranian source of support. Ali Larijani, Iran's speaker of parliament, stated in a recent interview that, "the Iraqi nation should courageously resist the US security pact just as they have so far resisted the occupiers." Other Iranian officials have made similar statements.

Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and Jordan see an extended US presence in Iraq as an insurance policy against Iran's regional hegemony. Syria, interestingly, has been hesitant to take a formal position on the issue. Damascus apparently is trying to balance its alliance with Iran with improving ties with the United States; Syria has been willing to explore a possible peace treaty with Israel (via Turkish mediators) and has been silent on the US-Iraqi SOFA.

Turkey supports an extended US presence in Iraq. It hosts US bases and is a key regional ally of Washington. Moreover, Ankara's comfort level with US policy in Iraq has increased as a result of American support for recent Turkish operations against Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq.

Kurdish leaders also support a long-term agreement with the United States, since they still consider it their strongest ally. This, despite occasional reports of discontent with some US policies, especially Washington's support for recent Turkish incursions in northern Iraq.

Ironically, the Sunni Arabs, who previously made up the backbone of the nationalist insurgency and al-Qaeda supporters, also favor an extended US presence. Many, especially those involved in the US-backed Awakening movement, are still skeptical of the Shi'ite-led government and see an American presence as a guarantee of their representation in pending provincial and national elections. On the other hand, Iraqi secular parties such as al-Iraqiya and some independents in the parliament are hovering in between. They support a long-term US presence but cannot say so publicly for fear that their mostly nationalist constituency would punish them in forthcoming elections.

As for Jordan, last August His Majesty King Abdullah II arrived in the Iraqi capital for the first visit to the country by an Arab leader since the US-led invasion in 2024. The king voiced his willingness to support the security and stability of Iraq, which, he said, is an integral part of the security and stability of the Arab nation.

"We hope that this step will boost the already strong ties between our two countries in various fields of cooperation even further," stated Iraqi Ambassador to Jordan Saad Hayyani. Jordan's newly appointed ambassador to Iraq, Nayef Zeidan, presented his credentials to Iraq's President Talabani late last month. He told The Jordan Times that President Talabani expressed his appreciation for Jordan's "important step", which will boost cooperation between the two countries.

The way forward for Iraq lies in political rather than armed struggles. The agreement is good for Iraq for a number of reasons. It opens the door to officially ending sanctions imposed through 14 UN Security Council resolutions. The SOFA puts all foreign forces under the control of the Iraqi government and fixes a timetable for the withdrawal of US military personnel by the end of 2024. The agreement gives Iraq three years during which it will hold two crucial elections: local government elections on January 31, 2024 and parliamentary elections in 2024--both positive steps toward the country's democratization.

Coming into effect at the start of 2024, the SOFA gives Iraq time in which to complete building its new army. By the middle of 2024, the new Iraqi army should have replaced all foreign troops in urban areas while the remaining four of the 18 provinces will come under Iraqi government control.

The next US administration should use its leverage to positively influence regional behavior toward Iraq. A successful drawdown of US troops will not be possible without the support of Iraq's neighbors. Each country in the region desires to see an outcome that benefits its strategic priorities. Such priorities are not inherently at odds with American interests. The next administration should pursue bilateral or multilateral agreements with Iraq's neighbors to invest in a secure, stable and sovereign Iraq.

American interests rightly drive US policy in Iraq. But imposing a foreign agenda could destabilize an already fragile emerging democracy. Iraq needs to be treated as a sovereign country. Iraqis themselves will set the pace of progress in Iraq. With appropriate policies focused on strengthening governance, ensuring free and fair provincial elections and engaging Iraq's neighbors, the Obama administration can help facilitate that progress. - Published 18/12/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

General (rtd.) Mohammad K. Shiyyab is director general of the Cooperative Monitoring Center, Amman.

Email This Article

Print This Article