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US military cannot hold detainees without charge under new Iraq SOFA

[JURIST] US military officials will be unable to detain people without charge under the proposed new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [CFR materials; McClatchy translation] with the Iraqi government, and military officials are now investigating the cases of about 5,000 detainees they consider dangerous in anticipation of the change, according to an AP report [text] Sunday. The new SOFA will also prevent private security contractors operating in Iraq [CRS backgrounder, PDF] from claiming immunity from Iraqi laws and will give Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over American military personnel [JURIST reports] for crimes committed off-base when the troops are not on an authorized mission. US military forces have been able to hold people without charge since the beginning of the conflict in 2003, but under the SOFA and Iraqi law, detentions will have to be based on evidence starting on January 1.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi cabinet voted [JURIST report] in an emergency session to approve a final draft of the SOFA between the US and Iraq. The SOFA, which determines the relationship between Iraqi, American and Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-I) [official website] forces in the country, requires US and MNF-I forces to exit Iraqi cities by June 30 [UPI report], and calls for the removal of all combat troops by 2011 unless the Iraqi government requests otherwise. This extends the deadline for US troops to remain in Iraq for three years, as the UN mandate expires in December [UN press release]. The Iraqi parliament began SOFA hearings [UPI report] last week, with a final vote expected Wednesday. If approved by parliament, the SOFA is expected to take effect in January 2009.

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