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Mercenary immunity

It’s treaty-negotiating time in Iraq, and it could mean a change in the way private security is handled there. The…

By Leslie Young , in 21st Century State-Building Blogs , on January 29, 2008

It’s treaty-negotiating time in Iraq, and it could mean a change in the way private security is handled there.

The U.S. is looking for special treatment for its independent contractors, and the Iraqi government seems unlikely to grant it.

The United Nations mandate that American forces were operating under is due to expire soon, and a new treaty will have to replace it.

It’s not unusual for this sort of diplomatic arrangement, called a “status of forces agreement”, to include provisions that exempt foreign soldiers from local laws and allow soldiers to continue to take local prisoners. But, the U.S. is hoping to extend these same privileges to its civilian security contractors, and that could cause a problem.

The U.S. has about 154,000 civilian contractors in Iraq. Most of these carry out fairly innocuous duties, such as driving trucks or cooking. Some 13,000 of these are “private security contractors”, of a far nastier sort.

At the moment, all 154,000 contractors have protection from Iraqi law, according to the New York Times. That’s pretty unusual. The question is whether this will continue, now that the issue is once again on the table.

After Blackwater scandals where private security contractors were involved in civilian deaths, these people are not very popular among Iraqis.

In no other country are contractors with the American army immune from local laws.

These are both good reasons for the Iraqi government to refuse special treatments for the Americans. We’ll have to see how this actually plays out – it might show just how independent the Iraqi government is.

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