U.S. Officials: Time is Short for Troop Agreement in Iraq
By Fox News
Thursday , October 23, 2008 --"Fox News" -- U.S. officials are telling Iraq's government that the window is closing to accept a Status of Forces Agreement that would outline the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
FOX News has exclusively obtained the first English version of the draft agreement, which has been under negotiation for the seven months. But in recent days the Iraqi side has indicated it is dissatisfied with some of the provisions, though it has not formally requested changes to the agreement. That has caused a lot of frustration for Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other U.S. officials, sources told FOX News.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday that U.S. negotiators — the top commander on the ground Gen. Ray Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker — are in regular contact with the Iraqis but have not been given any new terms.
"We believe that the text is a good one. And we believe it's closed or, if not fully closed, then almost all the way closed," Perino said Monday.
She added that "a very high bar" would have to be passed to see any changes to the agreement.
"I think Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice and Secretary Gates put it plainly, that there are consequences for not moving forward, but we are confident the Iraqis, once they can get through their political process that they have set up for this — this agreement, that we think we can get it signed," Perino said.
According to the draft copy of the agreement obtained by FOX News, all U.S. troops, not just combat troops, would be out of Iraqi cities by 2009 and out of the country by 2011.
The most controversial article in the draft agreement is on troop immunity. While the U.S. gives up immunity for U.S. troops who are "off duty and off base" if they commit major or intentional crimes, the U.S. retains the authority to determine whether they were off duty.
Article 29 calls for the Iraqi government to take "full responsibility of the International Zone" as soon as the agreement goes into effect.
"The Iraqi government is permitted to request temporary support from the U.S. forces in tasks related to security in the international zone," the draft agreement reads.
This is a new provision that was not in the earlier draft. It states that the U.S. would not have control over the Green Zone, where the U.S. embassy is situated. Perino said turning over the Green Zone to Iraqi security is no cause for concern.
"We would not agree to it if we thought that they weren't able to take care of it," she said.
Elsewhere, Article 22 of the document, which deals with detention of prisoners, concludes that "U.S. forces are not permitted to search houses and other properties without a court warrant."
That is a big change from combat operations, during which time U.S. forces could go into homes and arrest people as needed. The requirement of a judge's approval is unchanged from an earlier draft. Likewise, U.S. forces would be permitted to assist with arrests and detentions when Iraqi security forces request their assistance.
Article 22 also states: "With complete and active coordination with the Iraqi authorities, when this agreement goes into effect all detainees in U.S. custody shall be released in a safe and organized fashion."
That's thousands of detainees whom the Iraqis could choose to release or could keep imprisoned. However, at this point, the Iraqis do not have the capability to detain prisoners now in U.S. custody.
Article 12 of the agreement manages foreign contractors working in Iraq. The draft gives Iraq "the primary legal jurisdiction over contractors with the U.S. and their employees." In this case, it would appear that the U.S. government would not have protective or disciplinary authority over contractors.
Click here to view the draft SOFA (.pdf)
FOX News' Bret Baier and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.