Allowing foreign security guards in Iraq to be prosecuted under national laws, the US has agreed to scrap immunity for them, has said the Iraq foreign minister.
“The immunity for private security guards has been removed. The US has agreed on it”, said Hoshyar Zebari on Tuesday, after briefing Iraqi MPs on the controversial US-Iraq security pact.
“We do not comment on the contents of the ongoing negotiations”, said Mirembe Nantongo, the US embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad.
Iraqi politicians have long demanded that the immunity offered to private security contractors be lifted.
“The Iraqis have been suffering because of this”, said Mahmud Othman, an MP who attended Tuesday’s closed-door negotiations.
In Iraq, there are about 100 000 private security contractors. And they are allowed to operate virtually outside the law by being subject neither to the Iraqi legal system nor to US military tribunals.
In Iraq, immunity became a sensitive issue after the Blackwater incident. Last September, 17 Iraqis have been shot dead in broad daylight in Baghdad by security guards from the US company Blackwater.
Status of Forces Agreement
This company is one of the biggest private security contractors operating in Iraq, and
says its guards reacted in self-defence.
Security to US embassy officials in Iraq, including the ambassador Ryan Crocker, is provided by Blackwater, whose license to work in Iraq has been renewed earlier this year by the US state department, despite opposition from Iraqi leaders, including Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister.
Last November, the US president and Mr Maliki agreed in principle to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq, by the end of July.
As the current UN mandate for foreign forces stationed in Iraq expires in December 2008, the aim of the US-Iraq security agreement is to establish the rules for a continuing US troop presence on Iraqi soil.
Last month, amid strong opposition from Iraqi political factions, including from some Shia leaders, who denounced the proposed agreement as “eternal slavery” for the country, the talks seemed to reach a deadlock.
The number of military bases that Washington will maintain in Iraq is also a problem.