The Still-Not-Final U.S.-Iraq SOFA

by Duncan Hollis

As was widely reported, the United States and Iraqi negotiators (finally!) concluded negotiations last week by signing the text of a U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).  Both sides now need to go through their respective domestic approval processes before exchanging the necessary notifications to bring the SOFA into force.  In Iraq, that process includes parliamentary approval, which is not a slam dunk if yesterday’s parliamentary brawl is any indication.  In the United States, the path appears a bit easier, although there’s still tension between the Executive Branch, which is insisting it can conclude the SOFA as a sole-executive agreement, and various members of Congress who insist the SOFA’s more unusual provisions require legislative involvement. 

As I noted a few weeks back, the threshold problem on the U.S. side is the information deficit, given executive reluctance to fully share the text publicly and perhaps even with Congress directly (there are news reports of classified briefings to Congress, and perhaps the text has been provided to certain committees or the leadership, but I’ve yet to see evidence that the document is available to members of Congress generally).  Of course, the Case Act requires the White House to report the whole agreement to Congress within 60 days of its conclusion, whether publicly or in classified form.  At that point though, it will already be an international obligation of the United States.  What’s more, the two sides reportedly signed a separate Strategic Framework Agreement at the same time as the SOFA signing.  This is likely a political commitment, which means, among other things, there’s no obligation to report it under the Case Act.  And I’ve found no one who can tell me what this Strategic Framework Agreement actually says, other than it purportedly would, according to Ambassador Ryan Crocker, “define the countries’ ties for years.” 

For readers interested in getting into the weeds here, McClatchy has an English translation that purports to be from a leaked Arabic version of the SOFA.  I haven’t had time to peruse it closely, but would like to start a comment thread so readers can offer their thoughts about the international and domestic legal implications of the SOFA text.  I’d also welcome more information on the Strategic Framework Agreement, especially whether it contains the security commitments and assurances originally envisioned when this process started a year ago

Hat-Tip:  World Politics Review Blog

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/11/20/the-still-not-final-us-iraq-sofa/

Comments are closed.