Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 26, 2008

Three SOFA Versions - But What About The SFA?

There are now several version available of the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) the U.S. is pursuing with Iraq.

There are two translations from the Arab version. One from Iraq blogger and activist Raed downloadable here. The other one is by McClatchy's Baghdad Bureau available here. So far the U.S. keeps the official English version secret. But McClatchy obtained a copy (pdf). Its team reports:

The Bush administration has adopted a much looser interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday — just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote.

These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.

To illustrate the differences lets compare the three editions. For obvious reasons we pick article twenty four.

Raed's translation:

Article Twenty Four
Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq

Recognizing the improvement of the Iraqi security forces and their increased capabilities, and the fact that they are in charge of all security operations, and based on the strong relationship between the two sides, both sides have agreed on the following:

1- All U.S. forces must withdraw from all Iraqi territories no later than December 31st 2011.

2- All U.S. combat forces must withdraw from all cities, towns, and villages as soon as the Iraqi forces take over the full security responsibility in them. The U.S. withdrawal from these areas shall take place no later than June 30th, 2009

Raed marked the changes from an earlier version he obtained. The "all"s marked above were added in the more recent one. The "must" in 1 was changed from "shall" the "must" in 2 was changed from "will".

The English version obtained by McClatchy seems to include most of the changes Raed marked throughout the agreement text. But article twenty four is different in the English version:

Article Twenty Four
Withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq.

Recognizing the performance and increasing capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces, the assumption of full security responsibility by those Forces, and based upon the strong relationship between the Parties, an agreement on the following has been reached:

1 - All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 3, 2001.

2 - All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

Notice that the English version still includes "shall" where the Arabic one included "will". In 2 the English version seems a bit more ambivalent too.

The English translation of the Arabic text as provide by McClatchy reads:

Admitting to the performance of Iraqi forces, their increased capabilities and assuming full responsibility for security and based upon the strong relationship between the two parties the two parties agreed to the following:

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

All U.S. combat forces are to withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and towns not later than the date that Iraqi forces assume complete responsibility of security in any Iraqi province. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from the above-mentioned places is on a date no later than the 30 June 2009.

I will let you decide how important these differences are. I for one believe that some lawyers could argue a lot about them. There are also, likely false, rumors of secret SOFA articles. How would those pass the Iraqi parliament?

What still bothers me the most is that the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that was signed by Maliki and U.S. ambassador Crocker together with the SOFA has still not officially been made public and that everyone is mute about it. Imad Khadduri provides a link to an Arabic version. At his site Badger translates a short part of that in a comment and muses:

Notice that according to this (1) the close cooperation in defence and security arrangements has been inserted into the long-term strategic framework agreement; and (2) while the cooperation is in defence and security arrangements, what is contemplated at the end of this section is the takeover by the Iraqi forces of full responsibility for security, the word defence being missing there. It is enough to make you wonder, and particular in the light of the fact that the final version of this seems to be something of a secret.

I continue to believe that The Iraq SOFA Is A Shiny Object that is supposed to keep our eyes away from the problematic text of the SFA.

How much sovereignty does Iraq have when the U.S. is issuing solicitations for ammunition for the Republic of Iraq? What does the SFA say about that? Will the U.S. keep control over Iraqi arm purchases?

Posted by b on November 26, 2008 at 11:09 UTC | Permalink


Keep control? Nope.

Posted by: ...---... | Nov 26 2008 14:23 utc | 1

Ah, the old trick of having two versions of the treaty, with not quite a literal translation. What a classic.

Guess it is harder now though, when then natives can read english...

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Nov 26 2008 15:37 utc | 2

"Shall" and "will" usage can be very confusing to non-English speakers. Indeed, the use of "shall" tends to confuse American English speakers to no end.

See the Wiki article on the subject, for example.

For what it's worth, "shall" when describing a third-person future event carries more force ("modal future") and "will" ("simple future").

Posted by: Obelix | Nov 26 2008 18:02 utc | 3

Iraqi parliament postpones vote on security pact to Thursday

BAGHDAD, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi parliament postponed Wednesday the vote on a security agreement with the U.S. to Thursday, the parliament speaker said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has rallied the support of the largest Shiite party union and the Kurdish group, which have combined members of 136 in the 275-seat parliament. The situation makes a simple majority passage very likely despite the opposition of the IAF, which has 44 seats.

However, Iraq's revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has said he wants a broad support of the pact.

There still need lots of deals to be made before the SOFA support is broad ...

Posted by: b | Nov 26 2008 20:20 utc | 4

My feeling is that the language of what the Iraqis are calling the "Withdrawal Agreement" is genuinely sufficient to guarantee Iraqi interests, though 2011 is still a long way away. There's no real wiggle room to permit an ongoing occupation. "All" is a definitive statement.

As I've said before, the real Iraqi aim is to get rid of the US troops. Without the US troops, the teeth of US domination in Iraq will have been drawn, and the US will have no means to enforce its wishes. The position is so similar to that of the 1973 Paris Vietnam treaty, that I am sure that that agreement inspired the Iraqi strategy in the negotiations.

There is another point: although it is true that Bush&Co would be ready at any moment to cheat on the agreement, I am not sure that Obama will want to do the same. It seems to be part of his policy to restore US credibility in the world, and skipping round a clearly delineated agreement is hardly going to help that.

Obama wants to concentrate on the economy - the right choice - and consequently it looks like he is willing to give way on Iraq. Pretty much forced to. When you're faced with problems on all fronts, you have to choose.

The failure to publicise the English text is certainly addressed to the domestic audience in the US. It could be that it is intended to keep things calm until the Iraqi parliament has voted. Could be, but I find that theory a little complicated. Why not simply say that Bush is embarrassed to admit to an agreement which is far from a "victory"? Rather it is the Iraqis who have won this round. I say "embarrassed", but it is more likely a psychological state of denial, where the notion of anything other than "victory" cannot be conceived of.

The difficulties of getting the vote through the parliament are simply the after-effect of the Iraqi position. I've been warning since July that Maliki was not taking his position of his own free will. There are many in Iraq, and Iraqis abroad, who think that any agreement with the US is a mistake, whatever its details. I understand the point of view, and I tend to think that myself. Maliki probably thinks that rubbing the US nose in their failure is not going to help the primary objective, which is to get US troops out of the country. Humiliation could lead to future sanctions. Better to let the US think they won, but to be sure that the US troops leave.

Nevertheless, there is difficulty in getting the vote through, as #4 indicates. I don't know whether the vote will pass, but, if it doesn't, the position will be grave for the US. Quite a crisis.

Posted by: Alex | Nov 26 2008 22:10 utc | 5

oops, how did i miss this thread? sorry, just linked to badgers new post@ OT

Posted by: annie | Nov 26 2008 22:30 utc | 6

Jonathan Steele takes a similar line to my #5. He sees it also as a victory for Iraq.

This is no sop. It is a vote to end the occupation of Iraq
The total defeat of the US plan to install a supine ally in the Middle East is likely to be confirmed today in Baghdad

Posted by: Alex | Nov 27 2008 13:09 utc | 7

So they did vote for it

Iraq parliament backs US pullout

Posted by: Alex | Nov 27 2008 14:02 utc | 8

Yep with some conditions ...

After 11 months of hard-nosed negotiations with Washington and a flurry of domestic political horse-trading leading up to the vote, the pact was approved by 149 members of the 198 who attended the session of the 275-member assembly. ... The vote came after a flurry of last-minute negotiations in which the main Sunni parties secured a package of political reforms from the government and a commitment to hold a referendum on the pact no later than July 30.

Should the Iraqi government decide to cancel the pact after the referendum it would have to give Washington one year's notice, meaning that troops would be allowed to remain in the country only until the summer of 2010.

No word about the SFA ....

Posted by: b | Nov 27 2008 18:49 utc | 9

Reidar Visser:

The “Withdrawal Treaty” Is Passed

The developments in the Iraqi parliament today very much went in the direction Maliki wanted them to go, even if the opposition managed to create at least a degree of friction. Three votes were held. First, a “decision” (qarar) was adopted, which reflected the demands of the opposition parties. Among other things, it called for an intensification of efforts towards revising the Iraqi constitution, steps towards rebuilding the Iraqi security forces on a “national basis”, integration of the awakening councils in the security forces, and a more general outreach to groups currently outside the political process that are prepared to give up armed resistance. It remained more than anything a statement of intent (and the document is punctuated with caveats – the integration of the sahwat, for example, should also be “according to the government programme”) and as such today's package of legislation is sadly reminiscent of many of the deals that have been cut with the Maliki government since 2006: it bestows ample privileges on the Iraqi government in return for promises of reform that are both vague and without a clearly defined timeline. Still, at least it succeeded in keeping these issues on the agenda. In the end, Fadila decided not to show up for the vote and disassociated itself from the deal (dismissing it as “barter”), but it is clear that the party had been interested in the attempt to establish a link to political reform a couple of days ago, and the demands for systemic reform in Iraq (ranging from the constitution to the integration of the sahwat) are Fadila demands as much as they are “Sunni” demands.

Subsequently, two separate votes were held, on the SOFA and the broader “strategic framework” between the United States and Iraq, both of which were adopted with solid majorities reflecting the deal between the government parties and parts of the opposition (144 versus 35 votes is indicated in one report), although the SOFA (or the "withdrawal treaty" as pro-government Iraqis like to call it) is subject to a popular referendum to be held before 30 July 2009. The strategic framework has received less attention as a separate document; it is less specific and contains little that the Maliki government will worry about as most of the clauses are woolly and generally go in the direction of committing US support for the Iraqi government in sectors such as health, the economy and culture.

Nevertheless it does seem promising that the opposition in the Iraqi parliament in this case managed to turn a fragmented and sometimes ambivalent sense of protest into coherent demands and concessions from the Iraqi government that at least will keep issues like constitutional reform on the agenda and thereby could help set the stage for a more profound debate on these issues before the parliamentary elections in 2009.

Posted by: Alamet | Nov 28 2008 0:32 utc | 10

Via Just World News:

The White House has released the English text of the SOFA (pdf) and SFA (pdf) now.

As Helena notes there continues to be a clear difference in Article 24: The English version says "shall", the Arabic one "must".

Posted by: b | Nov 29 2008 10:21 utc | 11

The SFA linked above seems to be a corrupt file. I fail to download it.

Posted by: b | Nov 29 2008 10:30 utc | 12

The SFA link is working for me.

Posted by: ThePaper | Nov 29 2008 10:42 utc | 13

The SFA pdf downloaded OK for me. It looks pretty bland.

Posted by: Alex | Nov 29 2008 10:48 utc | 14

Top Shiite Cleric in Iraq Raises Concerns About Security Pact

Iraq's preeminent Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has expressed concern about the country's security agreement with the United States, saying it gives the Americans the upper hand and does not do enough to protect Iraqi sovereignty, an official at his office said Saturday.

Sistani, whose words carry great weight in Iraq, did not reject the pact outright and indicated that he would leave it to voters to decide its fate in a national referendum to be held by July 30. His comments will almost certainly bring pressure on the Shiite-led government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fulfill their promise to hold the vote.
Sistani, the official said, considered parts of the agreement "a mystery" -- especially those pertaining to the legal jurisdiction of U.S. forces and the mechanisms to control U.S. troops' entry into and exit from Iraq.

Sistani said the pact provided "no guarantee" that Iraq would regain sovereignty and questioned whether Iraq's assets would be protected under it. He also said he fears that Iraq's government is too weak to implement the agreement and will buckle to "American pressure," the official said.

Posted by: b | Nov 30 2008 8:36 utc | 15

John McCain makes surprise visit to Baghdad

Former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday and discussed with Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi the U.S. troop withdrawal agreement, according to a statement released from al-Hashemi’s office.

“Al-Hashemi received at his office in Baghdad Republican Senator John McCain and discussed with him issues if common interest and the security pact between the two sides,” said the statement received by Aswat al-Iraq.

What in the..?..

Posted by: Alamet | Dec 1 2008 22:41 utc | 16

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