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US top military official says troops need immunity for continued presence in Iraq

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff [official website], Admiral Mike Mullen [official profile], said Tuesday that US troops must be granted immunity in order to remain in Iraq beyond the end-of-the-year deadline. It is up to the Iraqi Parliament to decide whether they still need a US presence [WP report] beyond the deadline, but Mullen stressed that the agreement must contain immunity from prosecution. US troops are scheduled for complete withdrawal by December 31. But granting the immunity is a controversial issue [Reuters report] for Iraqi lawmakers, and a debate is scheduled for Tuesday. Tensions remain from a 2007 shooting incident [JURIST report] where as many as 14 Iraqi civilians were allegedly killed by US government contractors working for Blackwater USA [JURIST news archive] now known as Xe Services. The contractors were immune from prosecution in Iraq under the US agreement with the Iraq government. Still, an agreement may be avoided if it is determined that only a small force of trainers are required to remain.

US troops and contractors have been tried in US courts for incidents occurring overseas. In June, four former Blackwater contractors allegedly involved in the 2007 shooting incident challenged a ruling reinstating the manslaughter case [JURIST reports] against them. The case had been dismissed [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] because it found the decision to prosecute the men was "tainted" by the use of immunized statements. Two ex-Blackwater contractors were convicted of manslaughter [JURIST report] in March for their role in the May 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals and the wounding of a third. Last April, a federal grand jury indicted five former Blackwater executives [JURIST report] on charges of weapons violations and lying to investigators. In February 2010, the Iraqi government ordered 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq [JURIST report] in reaction to the dismissal of charges against the ex-Blackwater employees allegedly involved in the September 2007 shootings.

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