Sunday, June 13, 2004
From the Washington Post:
In an early test of its imminent sovereignty, Iraq's new government has been resisting a U.S. demand that thousands of foreign contractors here be granted immunity from Iraqi law, in the same way as U.S. military forces are now immune, according to Iraqi sources.
The U.S. proposal, although not widely known, has touched a nerve with some nationalist-minded Iraqis already chafing under the 14-month-old U.S.-led occupation. If accepted by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, it would put the highly visible U.S. foreign contractors into a special legal category, not subject to military justice and beyond the reach of Iraq's justice system . . . .
The question of the contractors' status also has arisen because of two U.S. contract employees at Abu Ghraib prison who were accused in a Pentagon report of participating in illegal abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The two -- Steven Stephanowicz of CACI International, an Arlington-based defense firm, and John B. Israel of the Titan Corp. of San Diego -- have not been charged with any crimes in Iraq or the United States, although some of their Army colleagues face military tribunals.
As an occupying army, the 138,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq have been outside Iraqi law since U.S.-led forces took over the country in April of last year. The troops will remain exempt in the future on the basis of a June 8 U.N. Security Council resolution and an accompanying exchange of letters between Allawi and the U.S. government in which Iraq requests their continued presence, according to a senior U.S. military official . . . .
But the status of civilian contractors has become a special question because the contractors are not covered by the Security Council resolution or the letter from Allawi requesting that U.S. forces remain in Iraq for an undetermined time. Moreover, they do not come under U.S. military jurisdiction because they are not part of the military, although some are hired by the Pentagon.