Examining the SOFA

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 1:14 PM EST

EXAMINING THE SOFA....McClatchy has posted an unofficial translation of the Status of Forces Agreement that the Iraqi cabinet recently approved. Here are the key paragraphs:

"U.S. Forces" refers to the entity that includes all the personnel of the American Armed Forces, the civilian personnel connected to them and all their possessions, installations and equipment present on Iraqi territory.

....All U.S. forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi territory, water and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.

That's as clear and simple as it could be, and as near as I can tell there are no weasel words elsewhere that weaken this commitment. Leila Feidel apparently agrees:

If Iraq's parliament endorses the agreement, in six weeks American forces would have to change the way they operate in Iraq, and all U.S. combat troops, police trainers and military advisers would have to leave the country by Dec. 31, 2011. President-elect Barack Obama's campaign plan to leave a residual force of some 30,000 American troops in Iraq would be impossible under the pact.

Now, obviously Iraq and the U.S. can mutually agree to amend the SOFA later if they decide to. But the fact that the wording of the current document is so clear — not "aspirational," not "conditions based" — will make it hard to do that. This language will very shortly get baked into the DNA of every Iraqi in the country regardless of confessional or ethnic loyalty, and the document provides no mechanism for modification aside from changing the SOFA itself, which would require approval from the Iraqi parliament. And what are the odds of that?

The translated agreement is here. I encourage everyone to read through it and look for loopholes. If you find any, leave 'em in comments.

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