BAGHDAD, Oct. 22, 2008— -- The Iraqi government said it does not need any guidance from the United States with regard to voting on a draft of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two governments.
In response to a warning by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Iraqis should more seriously consider the draft before rejecting it, the Iraqi government said it's "inappropriate to converse to Iraqis this way."
"Such statements are not welcomed here in Iraq and the Iraqis with all their political force [are] aware of the size of the responsibility thrown on their shoulders and appreciate the importance of the security agreement in the way that's most appropriate and thus a mandatory way to endorse the agreement shouldn't be imposed," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a written statement.
The Status of Forces Agreement, known as SOFA, is a pact that determines how the U.S. military operates on foreign soil. The United States has SOFAs with more than 100 nations, including Afghanistan, Japan and the Philippines.
The Iraqis will not be ready to provide for their own security when the United Nations Security Council resolution that allows the U.S. military troops to operate in Iraq expires on Dec. 31, Mullen said.
Dhafir al-Ani, a member of Parliament from the mainly Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, said he hopes the statements are not meant as a threat by the United States toward Iraq.
"We do know here in Iraq that if the U.S. forces leave, the security situation will deteriorate because the Iraqi army is not ready yet for total handover," he said.
After eight months of negotiations, the United States and Iraq finally agreed upon a "final" draft of SOFA last week.
Until the draft was presented to Iraqi political leaders during the weekend, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had hoped for a swift approval. Since that presentation, however, things have changed. Now, many Iraqi parliamentarians are calling for amendments to the draft.
"This agreement is a disappointing one for all Iraqis and doesn't respect Iraqis," said Mohammed Naji, a member of Parliament from the Shia United Iraqi Alliance block.
"America still thinks that we are in the 20th century, though we are now in the 21st century and things, internationally, are different. This draft, as it is, will not be passed by Iraqis."
Naji had several issues with the draft agreement, including the controversial subject of the timetable for American troop withdrawal.
"When is a suitable time [for withdrawal] and when Iraq is stable?" he asked. "There will be two different interpretations for the word stable by both sides."
The draft states that "U.S. forces shall withdraw from the Iraqi territories no later than December 31, 2011. ... Any extension or reduction of the time period is subject to both sides' approval."
Some Shia politicians have been accused of holding up the passage of the draft agreement due to the influence of Iran.
"If we look into the agreement from a logical point of view, I think it should be passed," said Saleem Aljuboori, a Sunni member of parliament from the Tawafuq Front.
But the issue of legal jurisdiction for the American soldiers remains a major sticking point in the agreement, he added.
Taha Alluhaibi, another Sunni member of Parliament from the Tawafuq Front, said that signing the draft agreement is better than the alternative of letting the U.N. mandate expire.
"We think that this agreement is a need for all Iraqis," he said, "because till now the security situation is fragile."