July 6, 2008
Andi Sporkin, NPR


NPR News Advisory:

Iraqi Negotiators Exploring Alternatives
to Status of Forces Agreement

July 6, 2008; Washington, D.C. - NPR News is reporting today that Iraqi negotiators are exploring alternatives to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which some believe is increasingly unlikely. The piece was reported by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News Baghdad Correspondent, and broadcast first on Weekend Edition Sunday.

Transcript is below. Audio is now available at:

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Weekend Edition Sunday - July 6 2008

Host Liane Hansen: The United States and Iraq have held protracted and contentious negotiations in recent months over the conditions for the continuous American military presence in Iraq. The aim was to work out a Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA, but NPR has learned that Iraqi negotiators are now looking at other alternatives. NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

NAVARRO: A Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the U.S. looks increasingly unlikely according to several Iraqi politicians. Sheikh Jalal al-din al-Saghir is a senior Iraqi lawmaker with the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.

AL-SAGHIR: "(Arabic spoken) SOFA is far away, very far away. It will take a very long time to negotiate, probably one or two or three years or even more."

NAVARRO: Rather, he says the Iraqis are now looking at hammering out a short term lesser deal that will determine the legal status of U.S. forces in Iraq. Since the 2003 Invasion, American and other forces have operated in Iraq under a U.N. mandate that expires at the end of the year.

AL-SAGHIR: "(Arabic spoken) We are now discussing a protocol or even less than this possibly some kind of memorandum of understanding."

NAVARRO: That protocol or memorandum would be attached to the "strategic framework agreement" - a broad pact that determines everything from cultural to commercial ties between two countries - that is also currently being negotiated here. Haider al-Abadi, an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, says the move was made because of public and political opposition in Iraq to a SOFA.

ABADI: "The U.S. side said possibly to reach a SOFA now maybe not to be possible ....and that is why probably we are moving to something different now."

NAVARRO: National Security Adviser Muwaffak al-Rubaie says that they are looking at a number of options to replace the SOFA agreement.

RUBAIE: "We will find ways of providing our allies with, in the way of legal basis, for their staying in this country. We can't sort of imprison ourselves or limit ourselves into two or three options, I think, we have to be much more creative than this."

NAVARRO: The question is whether a protocol or some other type of agreement will provide US troops with the legal basis necessary to operate, and free the Iraqis from the current UN mandate. An extension of the mandate is still being considered as well. al-Rubaie says he envisions a much less robust role for U.S. troops in the future.

AL-RUBAIE: "We believe that our Iraqi security forces are not very far from the self reliance, self dependent status."

NAVARRO: Still, there is no plan to ask U.S. troops to leave at the end of the year. A U.S. official close to the negotiations refused to us the term SOFA when discussing the current talks. He said, quote, “It will be an agreement that is acceptable to both sides, you can call it whatever you want."

Both Iraqis and Americans say it looks increasingly unlikely that any deal - be it a protocol or something more substantive -- will be reached by the self imposed July 30 deadline. Even though the United States has made concessions, there are still disagreements over immunity for U.S. soldiers who commit crimes while off-duty, whether or not U.S. forces can hold detainees, among several other issues. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News Baghdad.