US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has demanded that US troops scheduled to remain in Iraq after the end of this year be granted immunity from local prosecution.
“I can say very clearly that any kind of U.S. presence (in Iraq) demands that we protect and provide the appropriate immunity for our soldiers,” Panetta said on October 6 after a two-day Brussels meeting of NATO officials that focused on military actions in Afghanistan and Libya.
The issue of immunity has become a deal-breaker for American diplomats and officials. The Obama administration redefined all US troops stationed in Iraq as “non-combat” in August of 2010, even though they continued combat missions. Some 5,000 troops will remain in Iraq after the end of 2011, who will be defined as “trainers” in the country. Iraqi leaders issued a statement, coinciding with Panetta’s speech, saying there was “no need” for those remaining troops to recieve special immunity from prosecution, reports AFP.
Many Iraqis harbor bitter feelings against American servicemen after several incidents that have occured during the rebuilding of Iraq. US troops have allegedly shot at locals at random checkpoints, and a 14-year-old Iraqi girl was allegedly raped and shot to death by troops in 2006. A 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad’s Nissor Square by Blackwater forces that left 17 Iraqis dead cost the immunity of private security contractors.
In addition to the remaining 5,000 training forces, Washington wants to keep a residual military presence in Iraq to counter a “growing Iranian influence throughout the Gulf region,” reports The Washington Post.
“Nearby Bahrain’s pro-Western monarchy has blamed Iran for the unrest among the country’s majority Shiite population,” the paper writes. “And Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which deployed troops to Bahrain to crush the protests, has also faced unrest in the country’s Shiite-dominated eastern region facing Iran.”