Iraq has secured the right to prosecute US soldiers and civilians for crimes committed outside their bases and when off duty, in the latest draft of a security pact that will set the terms of their deployment beyond this year. The draft stipulates that the United States will have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over its soldiers and civilians if they commit a crime inside their facilities or when on missions, according to a copy obtained by reporters.
But the arrangement gives Iraqi courts the right to prosecute US soldiers and civilians if they commit "grave and premeditated felonies outside their facilities and when not on missions". The decision is seen as a hard-won concession for the Iraqi prime minister Nuri al Maliki who has taken a tough stand on protecting his country's sovereignty in the pact. The agreement pact will provide the legal basis for a US troop presence in Iraq after the present UN mandate expires on December 31. A failure to agree on the terms would force Baghdad and Washington to find another legal framework.
If the agreement is signed by the two sides and approved by the Iraqi parliament, it will become effective from January 1 and last for three years, during which a phased withdrawal of US forces is outlined. US combat forces will withdraw from Iraqi towns and villages by June 2009 and pull out of Iraq completely by December 2011, the document says. "By this time the Iraqi forces will take over all the security responsibility in the country. After June 2009, US forces will stay in the bases outside the villages and cities," the document says.
The two sides have also agreed that all military operations in Iraq will be carried out with the approval of Baghdad under the supervision of a Joint Military Operation Coordination Committee (JMOCC) to be formed under the pact. "All these operations must be executed with full respect to the Iraqi constitution and Iraqi laws," the draft says. The agreement also restricts US military powers by permitting troops to detain Iraqis only through an Iraqi order.
"In case they detain, the detainee must be handed over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours," the document stipulates. It also stipulates that any US personnel detained by Iraqis must be handed over immediately to American authorities. Iraq will also be in control of its air space once the agreement comes into effect. Iraq will also have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over US private security contractors.
Iraqi officials had said earlier that this right was conceded to Baghdad without much opposition following the killings of 17 Iraqis in broad daylight by guards from the Blackwater security firm in September 2007. *AFP