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US renegotiating rights for military, contractors as UN mandate reaches end

By Paul Wallis     Jan 25, 2008 in World
In 11 months, the UN legal mandate given to the US for Iraq expires. The administration is renegotiating the rules of US deployment with the Iraqi government. Current proposals are that the US military are exempt from Iraqi law. Contractors, however...
The basic situation is that they US isn’t going to be an “occupying power”. There is now, de facto, an Iraqi government, however politically shaky, and Iraq is a sovereign nation.
Legally, that means that the US now has to have the agreement of the Iraqi government to its presence and operations, and the rights of its personnel and citizens, and employees of US companies in Iraq.
This isn’t going to an exercise in “cute” diplomatic maneuvers. Contractors are a very sensitive issue with the Iraqis, particularly since the Blackwater incident.
The provision regarding the military is pretty much standard practice. The US has been wary of exposing its troops to external prosecution, and has negotiated treaties with many other countries.
The contractors are a quite different ball game. The US has a few problems in negotiating those exemptions with the Iraqis, as well as the generally negative view of the contractors.
There’s 154,000 contractors in Iraq, working for the Defense Department.
The point about that is that they are directly related to the US government and its mandate. Under those conditions, the US government is within its rights to negotiate on behalf of those contractors.
There are other issues. The rights of the US to operate militarily need to be renegotiated, too.
As the New York Times explains:
However, the American quest for protections for civilian contractors is expected to be particularly vexing, because in no other country are contractors working with the American military granted protection from local laws. Some American officials want contractors to have full immunity from Iraqi law, while others envision less sweeping protections. These officials said the negotiations with the Iraqis, expected to begin next month, would also determine whether the American authority to conduct combat operations in the future would be unilateral, as it is now, or whether it would require consultation with the Iraqis or even Iraqi approval.
There are other issues here. The US has had a lot of harm done to its reputation and credibility by the various cowboy elements in Iraq. As a matter of fact, in no other country would those transgressions of law be tolerated.
You can’t abuse liberty, and then claim to be upholding it.
The contractors, have been a real own goal for the US, and there’s no good reason for them to get away from responsibilities for their actions.
It would be a positive move to give Iraq some real ability to deal with the contractors, because it’s pretty clear that they don’t take American law very seriously as a deterrent. It would indicate some faith in the legal processes of Iraq, and give Iraq some recourse to legal action.
(That's one point not well made by anyone. The rights of aggrieved Iraqi citizens are left well short of normal international standards. They have to rely on a positive result from a US court, and can't use their own legal system. Meaning they effectively have either third party legal protection, if it works, or no legal protection at all, if it doesn't.)
Political point scoring has been a major focus, understandably, but underpinning that circus is a point of law:
Democratic critics have complained that the initial announcement about the administration’s intention to negotiate an agreement, made Nov. 26, included an American pledge to support Iraq “in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats.”
Representative Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that what the administration was negotiating amounted to a treaty and should be subjected to Congressional oversight and ultimately ratification.
If it constitutes a treaty, that’s a good point. There’s a tone of a military treaty, at least. Not calling it a treaty might get around that point, but it might not, and if not, Congress would be within its rights, demanding to ratify that agreement.
Iraq still needs US support, and a lot of it, in terms of the basic logistics of its situation. Iraq can’t even handle the 26,000 detainees currently under US administration. The demolition of the previous administration system has drastically reduced Iraq’s ability to administer security, law and order. Its ability to conduct combat operations is also very low.
Even so, since Abu Ghraib, the US ability to deal with breaches of its own law in Iraq has been a national embarrassment, publicized globally.
No American source, on either side of politics, or veterans groups, is exactly amused. People haven’t been dying just so some collection of government contractors could make a few extra bucks. There are no “Save The Contractors” groups picketing anyone, anywhere.
There are groups raising funds for defence of people charged in Iraq, but not one of them, that I’ve seen, has ever expressed any tolerance for breaches of law. They defend people on legal principle.
Which is more defence than Iraqi citizens are likely to get under this proposal.
For everybody’s peace of mind, the contractors have to be under some effective legal framework.
The national indignity the many abuses of public contracts have caused the US also needs to be addressed by something more than rhetoric and lip service to basic democratic principles.
Like, apply some of those principles.
In the US, these crimes would receive zero tolerance.
Or was all that talk about the Rule of Law just more guesswork?
More about Iraq, Contractors, Mandate