Iraqi cabinet approves status of forces agreement
Today the Iraqi cabinet unanimously approved a Status of Forces Agreement that will allow U.S. forces to stay in the country legally after their UN mandate expires at the end of this year. According to Al Jazeera the vote was 27-0 with one cabinet member abstaining and nine members not present. The agreement must now be approved by the full parliament.
The pact requires U.S. troops to leave the country’s towns and cities by mid 2009; they will then be based in rural areas and will assist in urban areas only when called upon to do so by Iraqi forces. U.S. forces must leave Iraq by the 31 December 2011. It was because this agreement was in the works and that no Iraqi government would or could approve a document that allowed the U.S. to stay much beyond 2011 that I didn’t think the recent presidential election would have any impact on the withdrawal of the American military from Iraq; John McCain couldn’t keep the troops there indefinitely and Barack Obama is unlikely to pull them out ahead of schedule. .
While Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) are considered treaties under international law (see Article 2 Section 2(a) of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties), under U.S. law they are considered executive agreements and are made pursuant to the president’s inherent power as commander in chief of the armed forces, not his or her treaty-making power; they therefore do not require approval either by the full Congress or the Senate.
In Iraq the pact is controversial, with Sunnis tending to be most opposed and some calling for a public referendum. Now that the Iraqi cabinet has approved it, the agreement must now be passed by the 275-member Iraqi parliament where its fate is uncertain. It then would have to be ratified by the three-member presidency which includes Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi, who has led calls for a public referendum and could veto the pact. There are currently about 150,000 American military personnel in the country.