Iraq drafting law to end foreign guards' immmunity

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BAGHDAD, Oct 25 (Reuters) The Iraqi government plans to submit a draft law to parliament soon to bring foreign private security contractors under Iraqi jurisdiction and end their immunity from prosecution, an Iraqi official said.

The legislation follows a number of deadly shootings involving foreign security guards, most controversially a September 16 incident in which guards employed by US firm Blackwater killed 17 people.

That incident enraged Baghdad and sparked calls for tighter controls on private contractors. Blackwater, which protects US diplomats and other State Department officials in Iraq, has said its guards acted lawfully.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters yesterday a draft law to hold foreign security guards accountable for their actions was being discussed in the cabinet.

''Soon they will ask parliament to enact a law which will put foreign companies under Iraqi authority,'' he said.

The law would replace a decree issued by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, in the days before it handed over control to an interim Iraqi government, which gave foreign contractors in Iraq immunity from prosecution.

Iraqis have long complained that the decree gives thousands of foreign security guards a ''licence to kill'', and US lawmakers have accused them of being ''trigger-happy''.

About 30,000 private security contractors, half of them Iraqis, work in Iraq, according to the Private Security Company Association of Iraq. They are mainly used to guard convoys and protect diplomats, businessmen and other foreigners.

In its latest human rights report on Iraq earlier this month, the United Nations said the United States should ensure that any US private contractors committing offences in Iraq are prosecuted.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday ordered tougher oversight of private guards in Iraq, including tighter rules on the use of force.

The State Department said other measures included improved training and clearer rules of engagement, better coordination with the US military as well as cultural sensitivity training for guards and more Arabic speakers.

Rice made the move following recommendations by a panel of experts she appointed to look into the work of private security contractors after the Blackwater shooting, which is still under investigation by Iraqi and US investigators.

Reuters AK VP0500

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