The US and Iraqi governments reportedly have reached an agreement that would protect uniformed American military personnel from Iraqi prosecution except for serious crimes committed while not on duty, an arrangement similar to what the US has done in other countries.
But the State Department appears to have shot itself in the foot, at best, by not ensuring the same protections for the private contractors who do the job the military can't or won't do. Private security providers like Blackwater won't be shielded from Iraq's corrupt and dysfunctional "justice" system, according to news reports.
If the reports are true, it's going to be even harder for Blackwater to defend American diplomats in Iraq - because in some of the most highly publicized incidents since early 2004, Blackwater guards fell under attack from Iraqi military and police personnel. Uniformed Iraqi personnel lured four Blackwater guards into a deadly ambush in Fallujah in March 2004. Iraqi police reportedly shot at Blackwater security guards as they defended a US diplomat in September 2007, resulting in the deaths of 17 people at Nisoor Square.
The State Department isn't even saying whether or not the arrangement is ex post facto; it's unclear whether the US will allow Iraq to try contractors for actions allegedly committed prior to when the pact becomes official. The arrangement is to become effective on January 1, 2009.
"It has not yet been publicly resolved how and where the Blackwater guards will be tried and senior officials said they did not know whether the new pact would apply retroactively," the International Herald Tribune reports.
"US officials have said that under the deal, US military personnel would retain immunity from Iraqi law except in cases of serious crimes committed off base.
"But the pact explicitly says US Defense Department contractors will lose immunity, said the senior US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said contractors for the State Department and other agencies are expected to be treated the same way."