The final draft of the US-Iraq Status of Forces
agreement on the US military presence represents an even more crushing defeat
for the policy of the George W. Bush administration than previously thought,
the final text reveals.
The final draft, dated Oct. 13, not only imposes unambiguous deadlines for
withdrawal of US combat troops by 2011 but makes it extremely unlikely that
a US non-combat presence will be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and
support purposes beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all US combat
Furthermore, Shiite opposition to the pact as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty
makes the prospects for passage of even this agreement by the Iraqi parliament
doubtful. Pro-government Shiite parties, the top Shiite clerical body in the
country, and a powerful movement led by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that
recently mobilized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in protest against
the pact, are all calling for its defeat.
At an Iraqi cabinet meeting Tuesday, ministers raised objections to the final
draft, and a government spokesman said that the agreement would not submit it
to the parliament in its current form. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
told three news agencies Tuesday that the door was "pretty far closed"
on further negotiations.
In the absence of an agreement approved by the Iraqi parliament, US troops
in Iraq will probably be confined to their bases once the United Nations mandate
expires Dec. 31.
The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced US negotiating power in the
final draft is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial
jurisdiction over US contractors and their employees and over US troops
in the case of "major and intentional crimes" that occur outside bases
and while off duty. The United States has never allowed a foreign country to
have jurisdiction over its troops in any previous status of forces agreement.
But even that concession is not enough to satisfy anti-occupation sentiments
across all Shiite political parties. Sunni politicians hold less decisive views
on the pact, and Kurds are supportive.
Bush administration policymakers did not imagine when the negotiations began
formally last March that its bargaining position on the issue of the US military
presence could have turned out to be so weak in relation with its own "client"
regime in Baghdad.
They were confident of being able to legitimize a US presence in Iraq for decades
after the fighting had ended, just as they did in South Korea. Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates had declared in June 2007 that US troops would be in Iraq
"for a protracted period of time".
The secret US draft handed to Iraqi officials Mar. 7 put no limit on either
the number of US troops in Iraq or the duration of their presence or their activities.
It would have authorized US forces to "conduct military operations in Iraq
and to detain certain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security",
according to an Apr. 8 article in The Guardian quoting from a leaked copy of
When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded a timetable for complete US
withdrawal in early July, the White House insisted that it would not accept
such a timetable and that any decision on withdrawal "will be conditions
based". It was even hoping to avoid a requirement for complete withdrawal
in the agreement, as reflected in false claims to media Jul. 17 that Bush and
Maliki had agreed on the objective of "further reduction of US combat
forces from Iraq" rather than complete withdrawal.
By early August, however, Bush had already reduced its negotiating aims. The
US draft dated Aug. 6, which was translated and posted on the internet by
Iraqi activist Raed Jarrar, demanded the inclusion of either "targeted
times" or "time targets" to refer to the dates for withdrawal
of US forces from all cities, town and villages and for complete combat troop
withdrawal from Iraq, suggesting that they were not deadlines.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad Aug. 21, the United
States accepted for the first time a firm date of 2011 for complete withdrawal,
giving up the demand for ambiguous such terms. However, the Aug. 6 draft included
a provision that the US could ask Iraq to "extend" the date for
complete withdrawal of combat troops, based on mutual review of "progress"
in achieving the withdrawal.
Because it had not yet been removed from the text, US officials continued
to claim to reporters that the date was "conditions-based", as Karen
DeYoung reported in the Washington Post Aug. 22.
The administration also continued to hope for approval of a residual force.
US officials told DeYoung the deal would leave "tens of thousands of
US troops inside Iraq in supporting roles...for an unspecified time".
That hope was based on a paragraph of the Aug. 6 draft providing that the Iraqi
government could request such a force, with the joint committee for operations
and coordination determining the "tasks and level of the troops..."
But the Oct. 13 final draft, a translation of which was posted by Raed Jarrar
on his website Oct. 20, reveals that the Bush administration has been forced
to give up its aims of softening the deadline for withdrawal and of a residual
non-combat force in the country. Unlike the Aug. 6 draft, the final text treats
any extension of that date as a modification of the agreement, which could be
done only "in accordance to constitutional procedures in both countries".
That is an obvious reference to approval by the Iraqi parliament.
Given the present level of opposition to the agreement within the Shiite community,
that provision offers scant hope of a residual US non-combat force in Iraq
Another signal of Iraqi intentions is a provision of the final draft limiting
the duration of the agreement to three years -- a date coinciding with the deadline
for complete withdrawal from Iraq. The date can be extended only by a decision
made by the "constitutional procedures in both countries".
The final draft confirms the language of the Aug. 6 draft requiring that all
US military operations be subject to the approval of the Iraqi government
and coordinated with Iraqi authorities through a joint US-Iraqi committee.
The negotiating text had already established by Aug. 6 that US troops could
not detain anyone in the country without a "warrant issued by the specialized
Iraqi authorities in accordance with Iraqi law" and required that the detainees
be turned over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours. The Oct. 13 "final
draft" goes even further, requiring that any detention by the United States,
apart from its own personnel, must be "based on an Iraqi decision".
The collapse of the Bush administration's ambitious plan for a long-term US
presence in Iraq highlights the degree of unreality that has prevailed among
top US officials in both Washington and Baghdad on Iraqi politics. They continued
to see the Maliki regime as a client which would cooperate with US aims even
after it was clear that Maliki's agenda was sharply at odds with that of the
They also refused to take seriously the opposition to such a presence even
among the Shiite clerics who had tolerated it in order to obtain Shiite control
over state power.
(Inter Press Service)