Panetta: US Troops in Iraq Must Have Immunity

Comments Set Up Another Battle With Maliki Government

by Jason Ditz, October 06, 2011

In comments today in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanded that the Iraqi government ensure explicit and complete immunity for all US soldiers that remain in the nation beyond the end of the year.

“I can say very clearly that any kind of US presence demands that we protect and provide the appropriate immunity for our soldiers,” Panetta said. The Iraqi government doesn’t seem to agree, however.

A statement from top Iraqi political leaders earlier this week insisted that only US trainers could stay, and since they were to remain on Iraqi military bases and not participate in missions, they didn’t need the blanket legal immunity troops have enjoyed for years.

The rub, of course, is that the Obama Administration redefined all the combat troops to non-combat troops in 2010, and seemed to be hoping to just redefine them all to trainers to keep up appearances while continuing the war. That’s where the immunity comes in.

But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who seems ok with caving to US demands, can’t grant immunity without parliamentary approval. The statement suggests parliament won’t grant it easily, and this seems to be another battle for US diplomats to fight.

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