The Syrian Strike and the Iraq SOFA

I mentioned how the cross-border attack into Syria was certain to unnerve the Iraqis, and sure enough, a government spokesman condemned it today. I did some digging to see whether this sort of attack would even be allowed by U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, and the best I could come up with was this dated draft version of the broader strategic framework agreement (.pdf) via the Guardian:

. . .[T]he U.S. does not seek to use Iraq (sic) territory as a platform for offensive operations against other states. (p. 2)

That clause is sufficiently vague to be meaningless. The attack into Syria, for instance, was arguably in preemptive defense, and therefore not really an offensive operation. (The same would be almost certainly be true for any eventual attack on Iran, for whose benefit the clause was almost certainly included.) But given that the Iraqis have been demanding veto power over American operations within Iraq, I’d be surprised if this latest incident doesn’t cause them to widen that to cross-border operations as well.

[Update: via Friday Lunch Club, the AP is reporting that an explicit ban on unilateral American strikes on Iraq’s neighbors was among four proposed revisions to the SOFA announced by an Iraqi government spokesman today.]

Meanwhile, the Iraqis have returned the latest version of the SOFA with some proposed revisions:

They largely comprised “grammatical changes in the way it is presented andfine tuning some of the sentences to be far more precise and black and whitethan they are currently worded,” the source said. “For example, the word ‘should’ we have changed to ‘must’.”

As in, instead of U.S. forces “should” leave by 2011 if conditions permit, the text now reads U.S. forces “must” leave by 2011. Period. Clearly, this isn’t an agreement that President Bush will be signing anytime before Nov. 4.

Should an agreement not be reached, and should the UN fallback option not be pursued, American troops will essentially be assigned to barracks in a war zone, not hostile to the host country, but not quite welcome either. If anyone has a historic precedent for such a situaiton, by all means, send it in.

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