status of forces agreement

The Real Reason All US Forces are Leaving Iraq...

… can be explained in a simple acronym: SOF.

SOF stands for “Status Of Forces.” It’s an agreement the US signs with countries like Iraq (and Afghanistan) covering the legal status of the US troops while they’re in a given country. And in countries like Iraq, for reasons that actually do make sense, the United States demands a “get out of jail free” SOF.

This does not mean that US soldiers who may commit crimes in the host nation necessarily get off–although, of course, they might. It means that they are immune from local law, and that should legal action need to be taken against a soldier, it will be taken under US law and in US military or civilian courts.

This understandably frustrates and angers many host governments, but the US position is that in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq the rule of law is so tenuous and the societies so riven by sectarian and other cleavages that it is not possible to trust the local legal system. And, to be fair to the US, this concern is valid in places like Iraq and Afghanistan–as is the point that US invasion and occupation has made these factors worse, not better.

Well, it turns out that Iraq refused to accept a “get out of jail free” SOF going forward. In other words, they refused the United States’ condition that if any US troops were to stay in Iraq, they would be governed by an immunity SOF. The United States’ reply was to say: “Bye!”

So the reason the US occupation of Iraq will be over by Christmas is international law. If only we had thought about that before beginning the occupation.