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Originally Published: 7/9/2008


By The Issue Wonk


President Bush has been pressing for an agreement with Iraq so that U.S. forces can remain in the country. Known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), it’s become quite a hot topic, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki now saying that he’ll only agree to let the U.S. stay if there is a written timetable for withdrawal. Why is SOFA such a pressing issue? Because the United Nations mandate allowing the U.S. to control Iraq will expire on December 31, 2008. What is the mandate and how did it come to be?




In November 1990 the United Nations issued Resolution 678 which authorized the use of force against Iraq to “uphold and implement resolution 660 and all subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” This Resolution authorized the Persian Gulf War. Following the Gulf War, the United Nations passed 16 resolutions against Iraq, including resolutions authorizing U.N. weapons inspectors to be in the country. By 1998 Iraq had withdrawn cooperation with the United Nations and all weapons inspectors had left.


On September 12, 2002 President Bush went before the United Nations General Assembly claiming that Iraq was continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He said:


If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material. . . My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced – the just demands of peace and security will be met – or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.1


In response, on September 16, 2002, Iraq delivered a letter to the United Nations stating that it would allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country “without conditions” to “remove any doubts Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.”2 On November 8, 2002 the United Nations for-malized everything by passing Resolution 1441, which reaffirms “the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, Kuwait, and the neighbouring States.” It “Requests the Secretary-General immediately notify Iraq of this resolution, which is binding on Iraq; demands that Iraq confirm within seven days of that notification its intention to comply fully with this resolution; and demands further that Iraq cooperate immediately, unconditionally, and actively with UNMOVIC [United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] and the IAEA. [International Atomic Energy Agency]”


On November 27, 2002 the first inspectors arrived in Iraq. (See U.N. Security Report of 2/28/03). On December 7, 2002, responding to the requirement in paragraph 2 of Resolution 1441, Iraq submitted a declaration to UNMOVIC and IAEA that is more than 12,000 pages. (See U.N. Security Report of 2/28/03).


Despite Iraq’s compliance with Resolution 1441, on December 19, 2002 then Secretary of State Colin Powell continued to claim that Iraq was seeking WMDs: “We also know that Iraq has tried to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes, which can be used to enrich uranium in centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program.” He also stated, “We are doing everything we can to avoid war. The President has made that clear.” (See Press conference)


On January 8, 2003, the IAEA reported, in a preliminary assessment, that the aluminum tubes were “not directly suitable” for uranium enrichment but were ‘consistent’ with making ordinary artillery rockets – a finding that meshed with Iraq’s official explanation for the tubes. New evidence supporting that conclusion has been gathered in recent weeks and will be presented to the U.N. Security Council in a report due to be released on Monday.”3 Despite this report and the continuing work of the IAEA, on February 5, 2003 Powell addressed the United Nations and, using satellite photos and audiotapes of intercepts, attempted to convince the Security Council of the Iraq threat. Yet, On February 28, 2003 a U.N. Security Report stated:


More than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected at different sites. Three quarters of these have been screened using UNMOVIC’s own analytical laboratory capabilities at the Baghdad Ongoing Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Centre (BOMVIC). The results to date have been consistent with Iraq’s declarations. [Emphasis added.]


And, on March 7, 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA’s Director General, submitted a report to the U.N. Security Council saying:


     At this state, the following can be stated:


  • There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.
  • There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990.
  • There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import aluminium (sic) tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment. Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminium (sic) tubes in question.
  • Although we are still reviewing issues related to magnets and magnet production, there is no indication to date that Iraq imported magnets for use in a centrifuge enrichment programme.4

Despite these findings, on March 7, 2003 the United States, Britain, and Spain introduced another resolution that would have given Iraq until March 17th to get rid of its WMDs. It said, in part:


Recalling that its resolution 1441 (2002), while deciding that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations, afforded Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions,


Recalling that in its resolution 1441 (2002) the Council decided that false statements or omissions in the declaration submitted by Iraq pursuant to that resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implmenetation of, that resolution, would constitution a further material breach,


. . .


Noting that Iraq has submitted a declaration pursuant to its resolution 1441 (2002) containing false statements and omissions and has failed to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, that resolution,


[Emphasis added.]


The proposed resolution was withdrawn when it became clear that the Security Council would veto it. Had it been brought to a vote and been vetoed, it would have been impossible for an invasion of Iraq to occur and for the U.S. to argue that there was any authorization to use force against Iraq by the Security Council.


Authorization from U.N. To Invade Iraq


Did the U.N. authorize the “coalition forces” to invade Iraq? Many claim that the U.N. Resolution 1441 did authorize it. However, paragraph 4 of that Resolution states:


4. Decides that false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and12 below; [Emphasis added.]


And paragraphs 11 and 12 state:


11.  Directs the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC and the Director General of the IAEA to report immediately to the Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations, including its obligations regarding inspections under this resolution;


12.  Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report in accordance with paragraphs 4 or 11 above, in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security; [Emphasis added.]


However, the United States continues to claim that Resolution 1441 gave them the authority they needed to invade by virtue of this paragraph:


Recalling that its resolution 678 (1990) authorized Member States to use all necessary means to uphold and implement its resolution 660 (1990) of 2 August 1990 and all relevant resolutions subsequent to resolution 660 (1990) and to restore international peace and security in the area,


Clearly, this paragraph, which the U.S. claims gave them permission to “use all necessary means,” refers to the 1990 resolution, where “all necessary means” were used. It did not authorize invasion in 2003. Some cite the October 16, 2002 U.S. Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 as authorization. However, this was issued by the United States, not the United Nations.


Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar were very disappointed by the failure of the proposed resolution, which would have given them permission to invade on March 17th. On March 14th the 3 of them met on Portugal’s Azores Islands to “search for a way to win U.N. backing for using force to disarm Iraq. . . White House spokesman Ari Fleischer described the talks as ‘an effort to pursue every last bit of diplomacy’ in the face of fading hopes for approval of a U.N. war resolution.” Fleischer said that “U.S. officials still hope to pass a resolution demanding that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein be disarmed.”5


In case you’re still wondering if the United Nations passed a resolution allowing for the invasion of Iraq, there’s this. On September 16, 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:


I have indicated it [the invasion of Iraq] was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.6 [Emphasis added.]


On March 18, 2003 UNMOVIC suspended its inspection activities (see U.N. Security Council Report of 5/30/03) and, on March 19, 2003, the invasion of Iraq occurred.


United Nations Mandates


After the invasion the United Nations acquiesced to the Bush administration. On May 22, 2003, the U.N. Security Council gave him legal cover to occupy Iraq and control its resources. Russia, France, Germany, and China – who had block the resolution Bush, Blair, and Aznar wanted to allow an invasion – voted for the new mandate.


Resolution 1483 ended all economic sanctions that had been in place against Iraq since the Gulf War. Also:


It establishes America as the real authority in Baghdad. It affords the U.S. and Britain as occupying powers unprecedented control over Iraq for at least the next year. The U.S. administration will have a mandate to rule until a viable Iraqi government is established.7


On October 16, 2003 U.N. Resolution 1511 re-emphasized the mission of the United States in Iraq. And, on June 8, 2004, with Resolution 1546, the U.N. extended the U.S. mandate for Iraq.


Iraqi elections were held on January 30, 2005 and a Constitution implemented on October 15. 2005. Recall that Resolution 1483 stated that “America is the real authority in Baghdad . . . until a viable Iraqi government is established.” Therefore, since a government had been elected and a Constitution implemented, a new resolution was necessary in order to allow the continuing occupation of Iraq. On November 8, 2005 the U.N. extended the U.S. mandate to December 31, 2006 with Resolution 1637. And, on November 28, 2006, the U.N. extended the mandate to December 31, 2007 with Resolution 1723. Finally, with Resolution 1790 passed on December 18, 2007, the U.N. extended the mandate again until December 31, 2008.


Why is Bush so concerned about the expiring mandate? After all, it’s been extended over and over again. Couldn’t it be extended one more time? It looks like Iraq is saying, “No.” In a letter to the U.N. supporting the last extension and attached to Resolution 1790, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made some interesting points. First, he explicitly stated that he is requesting that the mandate be extended “one last time.” He also stated that, “The functions of recruiting, training, arming and equipping the Iraqi Army and Iraq’s security forces are the responsibility of the Government of Iraq.” He goes on:


3. The Government of Iraq will assume responsibility for command and control of all Iraqi forces, and MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq, better known as the “coalition forces”), in coordination with the Government of Iraq, will provide support and backing to those forces;


4.  The Government of Iraq will be responsible for arrest, detention and imprisonment tasks. When those tasks are carried out by MNF-I, there will be maximum levels of coordination, cooperation and understanding with the Government of Iraq;


5.  The Government of Iraq considers this to be its final request to the Security Council for the extension of the mandate of MNF-I and expects, in future, that the Security Council will be able to deal with the situation in Iraq without the need for action under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations; [Emphasis added.]


All of this is confirmed in the Resolution itself where it says that the United Nations, “declares that it will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the Government of Iraq.”


A Status of Forces Agreement


Since it seems that Iraq will hold firm and not allow another extension of the U.N. mandate, Bush is desperate to get a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq. What he wants is an agreement that would give the United States “unilateral authority” over “military operations in Iraq and the detention of Iraqi citizens, immunity for civilian security contractors, and continuing control over Iraqi borders and airspace.”8 Clearly, if you read al-Maliki’s letter (referenced above), this is not what Iraq intends. “Failure to reach an agreement on the arrange-ments, which must be approved by the Iraqi parliament, would leave the negotiations over a future U.S.-Iraqi relationship and the role of U.S. forces in the country to the next American president.”


Therein lies the problem for the Bush administration.




1  Bush, George W. President’s Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly. White House, September 12, 2002.


2  Koppel, Andrea, King, John & Roth, Richard. Iraq Agrees to Weapons Inspections. CNN.com, September 17, 2002.


3  Warrick, Joby. U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question. Washington Post, January 24, 2003.


4  ElBaradei, Mohamed. The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update. International Atomic Energy Agency, March 7, 2003.


5  Associated Press. Bush to Meet Blair, Aznar in Azores. March 14, 2003. Preserved at Global Policy Forum.


6  BBC. Iraq War Illegal, Says Annan. BBC News, September 16, 2004.


7  Goldenberg, Suzanne. UN Mandate Oils Wheels for Reconstruction of Iraq. Guardian, May 23, 2003.


8  DeYoung, Karen. Iraq May Request Extension for U.S. Washington Post, June 6, 2008.



© The Issue Wonk, 2008



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