First Published: 2007-10-24

Iraq revokes security contractors' immunity

Iraq cabinet to discuss new laws dealing with private security companies operating in Iraq.


Middle East Online

By Ammar Karim - BAGHDAD

Will they really become accountable to the law?

The Iraqi government announced on Wednesday that it has decided to formally revoke the immunity from prosecution granted to private security companies operating in the war-ravaged country.

"The cabinet held a meeting yesterday and decided to scrap the article pertaining to security companies operating in Iraq that was issued by the CPA (Coalition Provision Authority) in 2004," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

"It has decided to present a new law regarding this issue which will be taken in the next cabinet meeting."

Article 1 of Section 2 of CPA order 17 issued by then US administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, stipulates that the "multinational force, foreign liaison missions, their personnel, property, funds and assets and all international consultants shall be immune from Iraqi legal process."

The immunity granted to private contractors has become controversial since a series of shootings involving foreign security guards, the most infamous of them a September 16 shooting in which employees of the Blackwater firm killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.

The Blackwater guards opened fire when they were escorting a US State Department convoy through a Baghdad neighbourhood.

On October 9 guards of Australian security company Unity Resources Group fired upon a car in central Baghdad killing two women, and on October 18 guards of a British security company fired on a car wounding three people.

On Tuesday, the US government also moved to clamp down on Blackwater and other private security firms in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was adopting "immediately" the recommendations of a review panel that exposed a worrying legal impunity for security guards working in the two countries.

The panel was led by Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's director of management policy, who said "the issue is to do the job in such a way that you minimize the risk to protectees and to any innocent Iraqis who happen to be in the area that a convoy is moving through."

In an implicit admonishment, the Kennedy panel stressed that private contractors should open fire only with "due regard for the safety of innocent bystanders."

The Blackwater shooting laid bare a lack of accountability for firms working for the US State Department rather than the Pentagon, whose private contractors are covered by US military law.

Washington has been increasingly dependent on contractors to protect its civilian staff in Iraq as the military has been fully occupied tackling insurgents and militias.


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