Friday, August 8, 2008

Let's try for another unpopular stance: immunity and troop withdrawal

Apparently the major sticking point in the final negotiations over American withdrawal from Iraq is not the timetable, but the question of immunity for American troops.

From the Associated Press:

One Iraqi official said persuading the Americans to accept a timetable was a "key achievement" of the talks and that the government would seek parliamentary ratification as soon as the deal is signed.

But differences over immunity could scuttle the whole deal, the Iraqis said. One of the officials described immunity as a "minefield" and said each side was sticking by its position.

One official said U.S. negotiator David Satterfield told him that immunity for soldiers was a "red line" for the United States. The official said he replied that issue was "a red line for us too."

The official said the Iraqis were willing to grant immunity for actions committed on American bases and during combat operations -- but not a blanket exemption from Iraqi law.

The Iraqis also want American forces hand over any Iraqi they detain. The U.S. insists that detainees must be "ready" for handover, which the Iraqi officials assume means the Americans want to interrogate them first.

As the talks drag on, American officials said the Bush administration is losing patience with the Iraqis over the negotiations, which both sides had hoped to wrap up by the end of July.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and al-Maliki had a long and "very difficult" phone conversation about the situation on Wednesday during which she pressed the Iraqi leader for more flexibility particularly on immunity, one U.S. senior official said.

This is actually a test of whether the US intends to recognize Iraq as a sovereign nation or not. I served in multiple countries during my military career, and always had to sign off on the briefing that said that we were guests in a foreign country, and that while not on active operations we would be expected to follow the laws of that country. It was made explicitly clear to us in Germany and in Turkey if we screwed up (especially with relation to local drug laws) that we would be prosecuted by the local authorities, and that there was not a finger the US military could lift to help us.

[I know that spirit has been traditionally honored in the breach in Korea and Okinawa, and increasingly so in developing nations from the 1990s forward.]

But here's the deal: if Iraq is not a puppet state, then we cannot claim extra-territoriality for our troops when they are off-duty. It's that simple.

Here's the compromise: all American soldiers are grandfathered against offenses prior to the signing of the agreement, with the exception of murder, attempted murder, and sexual assault. Charges on these crimes from before the signing of the agreement will be jointly prosecuted by US military and Iraqi prosecutors. Charges for all non-duty-related crimes post signing will be under the aegis of the Iraqi legal system.

Yeah, I know. Even my fellow veterans will for the most part disagree with this one, but it's really a no-brainer.

Iraq is either a sovereign nation or it isn't.

Our off-duty soldiers are either capable of following local law or they shouldn't be outside of American military installations.

Now, Condi, that I have explained that to you, cut the deal.

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