What is a Status of Forces Agreement?
A Status of Forces Agreement is just a fancy way of saying "agreement on the status of forces." I suspect Status of Forces Agreement is the preferred term because it can be abbreviated SOFA. SOFA rolls off the tongue a bit easier than AOTSOF.
What? You need more? Fine.
You people are relentless.
A SOFA is a deal between two countries: a country that has foreign troops stationed in it, and the country from which the foreign troops originate. It's the legal framework under which troops operate while they're stationed in another country.
For example, there are roughly 34,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan. The U.S.-Japan SOFA governs things like where U.S. troops are allowed to go in Japan and when, and whether they pay sales tax on Hello Kitty backpacks, souvenir samurai swords and sake shots. It also covers where they'll be jailed if they use souvenir samurai swords to stab people who make fun of them for doing sake shots while wearing Hello Kitty backpacks. You get the gist.
Because no country on Earth has more of its troops in other countries than the United States, the United States also has more SOFAs than anyone else. According to the military reference website GlobalSecurity.org, the United States has SOFAs with about 90 countries. SOFAs in 90 countries! Eat that, Rooms To Go.
As circumstance would have it, the foreign country that is currently home-away-from-home for the most U.S. troops just so happens to not have a SOFA with the United States.
That country is, of course, Iraq.
The reason the United States doesn't have a SOFA with Iraq is because we showed up uninvited. Instead of a SOFA, U.S. operations in Iraq are governed by a 2004 U.N. Security Council Resolution. The resolution expires at the end of this year.
Instead of renewing it, Iraq's government wants to play like it's a real country again and negotiate a SOFA. Here's what's come of the negotiations so far:
According to Leila Fadel and Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers, U.S. SOFA demands include: 58 U.S. bases on Iraqi soil from which U.S. forces can launch operations in and out of Iraq without the consent of Iraq's government, control of Iraqi air space up to 30,000 feet, and full legal immunity for U.S. troops and private security contractors. On top of that, the United States refuses to agree to defend Iraq from foreign attack.
Iraq's leaders are horrified.
The United States is essentially proposing Iraq officially sign away its sovereignty. Granted, it doesn't have much sovereignty — it's a broken state held together by a foreign army — but Iraqi leaders, like leaders everywhere, want more power for themselves. Damned if they're going to sign an agreement that turns their entire country into Fort Bragg East. Some Iraqi leaders are even suggesting that if the United States doesn't drop some of its demands, no SOFA will be signed and the United States should leave.
Iran, which is close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, is concerned a U.S.-Iraq SOFA will provide the legal and logistical framework for the United States to launch military operations against Iran. Maliki flew to Iran last week to reassure Iran's government that it will not sign any deal that puts Iran at greater risk of U.S. attack.
BTW — does anyone else find it odd that Bush praises Maliki as a great leader even though he kowtows to Iran's government? When a certain Democratic presidential candidate suggested merely having a conversation with Iranian leaders, Bush called him an appeaser and a Holocaust sequel enabler.
Speaking of Democrats, critics of the Bush administration in this country say Bush's proposed SOFA in Iraq is an imperialist attempt to keep U.S. forces in Iraq permanently. They're half right.
The Bushies and the McCainiacs clearly want to stay in Iraq, but even if they sign a nominally permanent basing deal doesn't mean future presidents can't reverse it. Permanent doesn't always mean forever.
Sharpie ink is permanent, until you rub it with nail-polish remover. Perms only last six to eight weeks. Heck, The NeverEnding Story was only 94 minutes long.