London, Dec 26 (ANI): Commanders at US bases across Iraq are preparing for a big change in their ground rules when the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) comes into force on January 1.
Under the security deal, American troops must obtain written consent from local judges before starting a raid against a suspected enemy. Until now they had been free to detain anyone they regarded as a security risk.
In Baghdad's more volatile neighbourhoods, such as Ghazaliyeh, the new rules are creating some concern.
"We need the element of surprise. You lose that if you have to go to an Iraqi judge first," The Times quoted Lieutenant-Colonel John Richardson, as saying.
Colonel Richardson is in command of 110 soldiers of the Fourth Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, who occupy a small outpost in Ghazaliyeh.
Attacks come about once a week from a group of insurgents in this suburb of the capital. Most recently they have thrown armour-piercing grenades at US convoys, causing six casualties in the past month.
Just before Christmas the commander received a late-night tip-off regarding the assailants' identity from an Iraqi witness of an attack. He considered his options.
"After January 1 I would need a sworn statement from the witness, and even that may not be enough," he said. "Twenty-four or forty-eight hours might go by before we can move and word might get out about our targets."
He chose to act immediately. Within three hours Captain Ruben Otero had assembled a platoon of US troops in a wooden shed beside a car park surrounded by concrete blast walls. The men were joined by a group of Iraqi soldiers.
Shortly after 3a.m. they started blasting hinges off the doors of houses and dragging Iraqis out of their beds.
An hour later Captain Otero had captured two men who were believed to have thrown the grenades, one who had filmed the attacks and four others belonging to the same cell.
Only when the mission was over and the detainees were locked up in a shipping container at the US base did the raiding party turn to the paperwork. With the help of the Iraqi soldiers and a retired police officer from South Carolina they spent the rest of the day applying for retroactive warrants and processing scientific evidence.
The Sofa agreement also changes what happens to detainees once they are in custody. From next month they can no longer be interrogated by Americans and will immediately be transferred to the Iraqi justice system.
Before long, all detainees will be handed over to the Iraqis and US soldiers will act only as commissioned raiders, not as jailers. (ANI)