US gets legal protections for forces in Iraq

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The United States and Iraq have reached an agreement on legal protections for American commandos deploying into Iraq to assess and advise Iraqi forces, three years after efforts to reach a similar pact for a larger US force failed.

Rear Admiral John Kirby said yesterday that Iraq outlined acceptable legal assurances for the short-term mission in a diplomatic note ensuring that troops will not be subject to Iraq's judicial process. Instead, if there are any problems, troops would be adjudicated under the US Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The agreement allows the deployment of several teams of special operations forces, including US Army Green Berets, to conduct an initial assessment of Iraq's military and will lead to the eventual deployment of up to 300 forces who will serve as advisers.

The legal immunity protections announced yesterday are similar to those provided to US civilians and troops working out of the embassy, officials said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest drew a distinction between the current situation and the administration's desire in 2011 to have the Iraqi parliament approve immunity for American troops when the US was looking to keep a residual force behind. Iraq refused to sign that agreement and the US pulled all but a small number of forces out of the country in December 2011. Less than 200 troops, largely providing security, have remained at the embassy as part of the Office of Security Cooperation.

"We're dealing with an emergency situation - that's the first part and there is an urgent need for these advisers to be able to do their work on the ground in Iraq," Earnest said, adding that they are going in at the request of the Iraqi government.

Officials also noted that the force being sent in now is much smaller than the several thousand that the military planned to leave there after 2011.

Two teams of special forces are already in Iraq and could begin their assessments later this week. Four more teams are expected to join them soon. Each team is made up of about a dozen members.

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