Iraqis lose right to sue troops over war crimes
Kamal Ahmed ;
Sunday May 23, 2004
Iraqis lose right to sue troops over war crimes
Military win immunity pledge in deal on UN vote
British and American troops are to be granted immunity
from prosecution in Iraq after the crucial 30 June handover,
undermining claims that the new Iraqi government will have
'full sovereignty' over the state.
Despite widespread ill-feeling about the abuse of prisoners
by American forces and allegations of mistreatment by
British troops, coalition forces will be protected from any
They will only be subject to the domestic law of their home
countries. Military sources have told The Observer that the
question of immunity was central to obtaining military
agreement on a new United Nations resolution on Iraq to
be published by the middle of next month.
The new resolution will lift the arms embargo against Iraq,
allowing the country to rearm its 80,000-strong army in
readiness for taking over the nation's security once
coalition forces finally leave.
'The legal situation in Iraq will be very difficult after 30 June,
with some confusion over where jurisdiction lies,' said one
Whitehall official. 'We wanted to ensure that British troops
maintained the immunity they already have under Order 17.'
Order 17 refers to an agreement signed by the Coalition
Provisional Authority giving American and British troops
protection. That will now be extended to the new
multinational force made up of British and American forces
which will remain in Iraq at the invitation of the interim
Last night MPs demanded that Iraqi citizens should have
some form of legal redress following allegations that people
had died unnecessarily during gunfights with British forces.
'How is anyone in Iraq expected to bring a case in the
British courts?' said Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP for
Carmarthen East, who has been credited with uncovering
many of the claims made against British troops.
'It is taking the idea of diplomatic immunity and applying it
to 130,000 troops. There is a danger that you are actually
going from immunity to being able to act with impunity.'
Price said that there should be a military ombudsman
based in Iraq who could investigate any allegations against
coalition troops and call for further action.
The British army was facing fresh embarrassment yesterday
when the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, published a
statement admitting that allegations against a British soldier
now facing possible criminal proceedings over the death of
an Iraqi civilian during an arrest were initially dismissed by
The Crown Prosecution Service is considering pressing
criminal charges against the soldier over the same incident.
'The case currently under consideration by the CPS was
referred to the Attorney General after charges were
dismissed by the soldier's commanding officer,' Goldsmith
'In these circumstances, the case cannot be tried by court
Earlier this month the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon,
said all allegations of mistreatment by British troops were
thoroughly investigated by the Royal Military Police
Special Investigations Branch.
The soldier's case is one of the two which he said had now
reached 'an advanced stage with decisions on prosecutions
pending'. The first picture of how the new Iraq will look
after the handover is now starting to emerge. Senior
diplomatic sources told The Observer that the new UN
resolution, which will give a legal basis to the Iraqi interim
government, will be published in the middle of next month.
It is likely to say that this government should be able to
give 'strategic direction' to the multinational force although
it will not take over full command, a move that has already
been rejected by the American and British armies.
Iraq's new ministers will also take over control of the
prisons, including the notorious Abu Ghraib jail where
Americans have been photographed and videotaped
It will also be allowed to equip its army, run a police force
and all of the departments of state.
'We will give full sovereignty back,' said one source closely
involved in the negotiations. 'There must be a partnership
between the Iraqi government and the multi-national force.
There can't be subservience.'
Iraq will be allowed to control its oil revenues, which will
raise $48 billion a year within the next three years, although
it will have to pay tens of billions of pounds in reparations
imposed following the Gulf war. After the invasion and
occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1990
and the subsequent war, the UN oversaw a reparations
programme, mostly payable to the Kuwaiti government.
Iraq has so far paid $18bn funded from its oil reserves.
After the new resolution is passed it will still have to use a
proportion of its revenues to pay off the outstanding amount.
Diplomatic sources made it clear, however, that after the
handover a lot of work would go into debt relief for areas
of the country, particularly around Baghdad and in the north,
where there are high levels of poverty.