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Iraq | International

Iraq deal with US to end immunity for foreign contractors
by via UK Independent
Wednesday Jun 18th, 2008 7:57 AM
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 : The US has accepted that foreign contractors in Iraq will no longer have immunity from Iraqi law under a new security agreement now under negotiation, says the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari.
Mr Zebari, speaking to The Independent in Washington, said that if there was a further incident like the one in which 17 Iraqis were killed by workers from the Blackwater security company in Baghdad last September, the Iraqis would arrest and punish the contractors held responsible.

The American concession would have a serious effect in Iraq, where there are an estimated 160,000 foreign contractors, many of them heavily armed security personnel. The contractors, who outnumber the 145,000-strong US Army in the country, have become a vital if much-resented part of the military machine in Iraq.

Mr Zebari, Foreign Minister since 2004 and one of the ablest Iraqi leaders, defends the security deal now being negotiated, in contrast to Iraqi critics who say it turns the country into an American client state. On Friday the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said negotiations on twin political and military agreements between the US and Iraq had "reached a dead end".

Later, after a phone call from Mr Zebari, Mr Maliki backtracked from his earlier statement. But details of the American proposals, first published in The Independent, have been denounced in Iraq for making the US occupation permanent. Mr Zebari contends that nothing is yet agreed and the American side is showing flexibility under instructions from President Bush. "I am using this example [the ending of immunity for US contractors] to show that talks have not reached a dead end," he said.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister is in Washington for talks about the negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa), covering critical issues of military co-operation between the US and Iraq, and the parallel Strategic Framework Agreement that covers political and other issues.

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