Beware a Trojan SOFA!

The climactic event of the Trojan War occurred, according to Homer in the Iliad, when the besieging Greeks sought to end the siege by building and transporting just outside the gates of Troy a large wooden horse, in which a group of Greek soldiers were hidden. The gullible Trojans were convinced the horse would bring them luck and dragged it into the city. Whle they slept, the hidden soldiers snuck out of the horse, opened the gates to let their Greek comrades in, and the war was won. The saying “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” became part of our lexicon.

The Iraq War may have its own Trojan horse in the form of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) currently being proposed by the Bush administration to the al-Maliki government. The SOFA is necessary because the UN mandate justifying the occupation expires at the end of this year, and if it is not renewed, the continued American presence after December 31, 2008 will be illegal. The question of legality may or may not be overriding, but it would certainly look better if the Iraqis can be convinced to invite the Americans to stay (a major role of the SOFA).

The terms of the SOFA determine the shape of the Trojan horse. Three elements stand out. First, how many Americans will be allowed to stay, and where (on how many bases where) will they be allowed to stay? Second, how long will they be permitted to stay? Will it be for a short time during which the withdrawal occurs, or a long, even indefinite period? Third, what will the status of the Americans be? Will they have the right to detain Iraqis without Iraqi government permission (as they do now)? Will they be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law (as they are now)? Will they be permitted to pursue what they consider terrorists without consulting the Iraqi government (as hey do now)? All these are critical questions that are under negotiation.

The Trojan SOFA affects both American and Iraqi politics. If a generous SOFA one that gives the Americans what the Bush administration wants) is negotiated, it will prejudice the ability of the next president to initiate withdrawal (obviously more of a problem for Obama than McCain). If the al-Maliki government negotiates such an agreement in the face of increasing sentiment across the spectrum of Iraqi opinion that the Americans should leave altogether, his government and anyone who supports it will be endangered–especially in post-American Iraq.

Will the Iraqis fall for the new version of the Trojan horse ploy, or will they be clever enough to see it as a way for the Americans to insert themseles for the duration? The answer will affect the Iraq War for years to come.

(For a summary of the issues, see Greg Bruno, “Iraq Splinters on Security”. June 11, 2008, on the Council on Foreign Relations web site at      


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