With the both the status of forces agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Iraq and the “handover” of the Green Zone to Iraqi control (whatever that means) taking effect on January 1st, there are plenty of questions as to how American forces and private contractors are going to operate in the coming year.
And the contractors, at least, seem a little freaked out by the new reality. The latest issue (PDF!) of the Journal of International Peace Operations—the contracting industry’s trade mag—sounds an alarmist note about how private contractors can respond, and what their new rights and responsibilities look like.
Tara Lee and Ryan Berry, the authors of the piece, kick things off referencing the recent “United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq” report, which was highly critical of the Iraqi government and security forces’ recent human rights record, warning that torture and beatings are “widespread and routine.” Stoking the fires, the duo continues, “U.S. citizen contractor arrested by the Iraqi police will be left to the disposition of the Iraqi judicial system – left entirely to sit in the Iraqi jail, awaiting Iraqi justice.”
Truth be told, given the abuses—both real and imagined—that some private security contractors have inflicted on the Iraqi populace, and the overall Iraqi resentment over not having jurisdiction over tens of thousands of armed civilians roaming their country for the past five years, there is the real potential for Iraqi security forces to try and assert some control, whether they have hard evidence of wrongdoing or not.
And the authors sound the alarm:
Nonetheless, starting January 1, 2009, the U.S. government can only obtain jurisdiction over U.S. citizen contractors suspected of wrong-doing if the Iraqi government “waives its primary right of jurisdiction in a particular case.” The SOFA does not require Iraq to notify the U.S. authorities when U.S. citizen contractors are arrested, meaning that the arrest of an American citizen may not even come to the U.S. government’s attention.
According to the Department of State, there will be no exceptions to this deference to Iraqi sovereignty, not even if a contractor is arrested for doing exactly what his U.S. government contract obligated him to do.
Something to be concerned about for sure, and something that has the potential to get messy if the situation ever arises that a contractor is detained for performing his or her duties as assigned. While some contractors might be nervous over all of these changes, there are some unequivocally positive aspects of the deal, even if JIPO doesn’t see them as such—starting with the fact that contractors now have to learn the laws of the country in which they’re working.
As Lee and Berry write, the SOFA means that companies will have to “modify their operations and train their employees accordingly, negotiate costly new insurance coverage, replace employees who decide to seek employment elsewhere rather than subject themselves to Iraqi jurisdiction, all the while not defaulting on contracts. It’s a tall order.”
Sure is, but that’s the price you pay for following the law, isn’t it?