Immunity for US forces in Iraq

President Obama announced that he was sending an additional 200 troops to Iraq to add to the 275 troops that were sent in earlier and the 300 advisors. Although these people are called advisors, they are not accountants and lawyers and economists and academics in suits. They are usually Special Forces and other armed military personnel who could well end up in a shooting war. So the number of armed personnel sent back is now actually 775 and there is a real risk of some incident where they kill or otherwise injure Iraqi civilians.

One of the major sticking points that led to the US pulling out its combat forces from Iraq was that the Iraqi government was unwilling to grant immunity for the actions of US personnel in that country. Via Marcus Ranum, I learn that Iraq has quietly given the US “acceptable assurances” that these advisors would be shielded from local laws and this would likely extend to the 475 other troops as well.

The catch with these immunity deals is not usually about what these people do in their official capacity. As we have seen in other countries where US troops and other personnel have been stationed, it is when they get involved in some private dispute with the local population and the US uses their immunity status to let them escape any consequences. Recall the case of CIA operative Ray Davis in Pakistan. It is that kind of thing that causes great anger, similar to how people get angry when diplomats use their immunity to ignore local laws with impunity.


  1. busterggi says

    Somewhere Charles Laughton’s ghost is cryin, “Sanctuary, sanctuary.”

  2. says

    This is a good piece to read for context:
    Blackwater and US forces frequently murdered civilians. No, “murder” is not too strong a word – there are plenty of accounts of civilians being machine-gunned for not getting their cars stopped fast enough at checkpoints, civilians being injured by having their vehicles rammed off the road by American convoys, etc. The Blackwater contractors that were killed and had their bodies burned were part of a system of repression that generated a lot of hatred. And one of the things they were most hated for was the impunity with which they acted.

    The issue is similar in Afghanistan; US forces want immunity in case they have a “kill team” or a Ssg Bales decide to kill a bunch of civilians – no need to gum up the works by allowing the civilians’ families and relatives try to get justice. Of course in those cases, they killers got American military “justice” — which is to say, sentences much much shorter than Manning’s.

    What’s interesting is that the special forces’ immunity only makes sense if they’re, um, killing people. Or doing other dangerous stuff that might result in people getting dead or injured. In other words, they are not there to teach classes in how to spit-shine boots or operate a MANPAD. The reason I found that article interesting is that it’s a pretty clear sign that the special forces are “advisors” in the same sense that they were in Vietnam. Plus ça change…

  3. Jockaira says

    The main problem with military personnel aside from sending them there in the first place, is that they are trained to respond to most situations with deadly force, usually without warning to the targets. This is unlike other types of personnel such as diplomats, office workers and such and even civilian police.

    Of course if soldiers are being assigned to protect otherwise defenseless personnel, such training can be handy, but after all the shooting is over, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the justified uses of deadly force from the nutcases and those who run amok with virtually unlimited authority and really efficacious weapons.

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