US security contractors losing immunity from Iraqi law under SOFA

[JURIST] Private security contractors operating in Iraq [CRS backgrounder] will no longer be able to claim immunity from Iraqi laws under the new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [CFR materials; McClatchy translation] with the Iraqi government, Bush administration officials said in a briefing for security firms Thursday. US and non-Iraqi contractors had been immune to prosecution under Iraqi law since 2003 under an order by the Coalition Provisional Authority [official website] directing that contractors were to be prosecuted in their home countries [LA Times report]. Government officials addressed [AP report] more than 170 of the security firms operating in Iraq, which employ approximately 174,000 operating in Iraq, including Blackwater Worldwide, KBR Inc., and Dyncorp International [corporate websites] and said that while the SOFA grants limited control over the US military and Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] employees to the Iraq government, private contractors are excluded from this arrangement. Many believe [Middle East Online report] the provisions are the direct result of incidents involving the killings of Iraqis by private security guards, most notoriously the September 16 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] by Blackwater personnel.

Late last week, the Iraqi cabinet voted [JURIST report] in an emergency session to approve a final draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [CFR materials] between the US and Iraq. The SOFA, which determines the relationship between Iraqi, American and Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-I) [official website] forces in the country, requires US and MNF-I forces to exit Iraqi cities by June 30 [UPI report], and calls for the removal of all combat troops by 2011 unless the Iraqi government requests otherwise. This extends the deadline for US troops to remain in Iraq for three years, as the UN mandate expires in December [UN press release]. The SOFA will also define the ongoing relationship between US and MNF-I forces and Iraqi civilian institutions, including the national police service and the Iraqi justice system. In particular, it gives Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over American military personnel [JURIST report] for crimes committed off base when the troops are not on an authorized mission. The Iraqi parliament began SOFA hearings [UPI report] this past Monday, with a final vote expected sometime after November 24. If approved by parliament the SOFA is expected to take effect in January 2009.

 

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