Iraq: terror continues, SOFA advances

Blasts struck a double-decker bus and a taxi in eastern Baghdad Oct. 20, killing four. Iraqi police said the bus was carrying employees of Iraq’s Housing Ministry through the Shi’ite neighborhood of Mashtal when it was hit by a roadside bomb. (AP, Oct. 20) Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is calling for more time to work out details of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. The latest draft of the deal would allow US forces to remain past a 2011 deadline at the request of the Iraqi government in the event of continued instability. (CSM, Oct. 20)

The UN mandate for US-led forces expires at the end of this year. About 144,000 of the 152,000 foreign troops deployed in Iraq are US military personnel. Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr staged a mass protest in Baghdad to protest the pending SOFA Oct. 18. An estimated 50,000 marched, chanting slogans like “Get out occupier!” (BBC, Oct. 18)

Under the proposed agreement, US forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities by July 30, 2009, and exit the country entirely by Dec. 31, 2011—unless authorized to remain longer by the Iraqi government. Jurisdiction is a key issue in the talks. The current version would allow Iraqi authorities to prosecute US soldiers charged with murder while off base. All other crimes, however, would fall under the jurisdiction of US military prosecutors. (UPI, Oct. 20)

Former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari of the National Reform Party is among those harshly criticizing the SOFA, calling it a “disgrace that the Iraqis will never accede to,” according to the Iranian media. Jafari made the remarks in a meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in Tehran. (Press TV, Iran, Oct. 20)

Iraq’s leading Shi’ite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance—which includes the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki— released a statement saying: “Beside the positive points that were included in this pact, there are other points that need more time, more discussion, more dialogue and amendments to some articles.”

The Political Council for National Security—which includes al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and other senior officials—met for about two hours Oct. 19 to discuss the pact. A government spokesman said only the Kurdish bloc has endorsed the draft without reservations. Maliki said after the meeting that he is eager to negotiate a similar deal with the British forces deployed in southern Iraq. (AlJazeera, Oct. 19)

See our last posts on Iraq and the SOFA.