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US seeks legal protection for troops going to Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon expects Iraq to agree in writing to legal protections for the military advisory teams that President Barack Obama is sending as part of an effort to stiffen Iraqi defenses against insurgents, a spokesman said Friday.

“I can assure you we will have those protections,” the Pentagon press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, told reporters. He said U.S. officials are currently consulting with the Iraqi government about that issue.

U.S. troops
U.S. Army Lieutenant Patrick Mulvaney arrives at Fort Hood, Texas after being part of one of the last American combat units to exit from Iraq in December 2011. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Iraq refused to agree to such legal protections for a much larger number of U.S. troops that the Obama administration had proposed leaving in Iraq after its combat mission ended in December 2011. As a result, that residual force was never deployed.

Kirby said the U.S. does not need a Status of Forces Agreement of the type it tried to negotiate with Iraq in 2011. He was not specific about the type of written agreement being sought in this case but said he had no doubt it will be obtained.

“I’m confident that the legal protections that are needed will be in place,” he said.

The point of having such legal protections is to ensure that U.S. troops would be subject to the U.S. military justice system if needed and not to the Iraqi judicial system.

Obama earlier this week authorized the deployment of up to 300 special operations forces into Iraq to assess and assist the Iraq security forces as they battle an aggressive insurgent group, the al-Qaida breakaway group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which also is fighting in neighboring Syria.

Kirby said the first portion of that U.S. force would be comprised of military members who are already in Baghdad as part of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, which is part of the U.S. Embassy. They will focus on assessing the state of Iraq’s security forces and the state of the insurgency; that assessment will inform decisions about how follow-on adviser teams will be used, he said.

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