Iraq deal with US to end immunity for foreign contractors

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.

He is also establishing official contact with the presidential candidates, briefing John McCain on the situation in Iraq, and was due to speak to Barack Obama yesterday. In speaking to Senator Obama he said he wanted to reassure him that the purpose of the Sofa was not to pre-empt different policies that might be adopted by a new president. Mr Obama has told Iraqi officials that, if elected, he will not act precipitately on Iraq and will seek the views of the American military commander on the spot.

Critics of the agreement in Iraq see the powers being demanded by the US, such as the use of 58 bases, the freedom of the US to carry out operations and arrests without consulting the Iraqi government, and the immunity of US troops, as compromising Iraqi independence. They have denounced the deal as ominously similar to the Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1930 under which Iraq was nominally independent but Britain retained bases and covert control.

Other shifts in US proposals being discussed are a joint Iraqi-American centre to co-ordinate operations against terrorists and the transfer of prisoners, currently numbering 21,000, to Iraqi custody. The Iraqi side has been investigating how other Sofas operate in other countries such as Japan, South Korea and Turkey, but in none of these are US troops involved in combat or the target of armed resistance.

Mr Zebari says Iraq still needs US troops' support. Its security forces number 600,000 but lack training and logistical support. Mr Maliki's government is more confident since it sent forces into Basra, Sadr City and Mosul earlier this year but it is not clear if they would have held their ground without US firepower, air support and advice.

President Bush is pushing for the Sofa and the less important Strategic Framework Agreement to be signed by 31 July.

*A powerful car bomb exploded in a crowded market in Baghdad yesterday, killing 51 people and wounding 75, in the biggest attack in the Iraqi capital in months. The market was in the predominantly Shia neighbourhood of al-Hurriya in north-west Baghdad.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'