(Newsday.com) - The Iraqi government approved a draft law Tuesday to lift immunity for foreign security companies including Blackwater USA, a bid to overturn a decree imposed more than three years ago by the U.S. official who ran the country after the American-led invasion.
The legislation could have a chilling effect on security companies operating in Iraq, though the vast sums they and their guards are paid are likely to weigh more heavily than the possibility of legal jeopardy.
The draft law, expected to be passed overwhelmingly by parliament, is also certain to deepen tensions between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to push through the legislation amid public outrage over Blackwater's seemingly unprovoked killing of 17 Iraqis last month as well as a series of other Iraqi civilian deaths allegedly at the hands of foreign contractors.
The U.S. and Iraq were already at loggerheads over Blackwater, which guards American diplomats in Iraq. The problem was compounded by reports that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security granted limited immunity to the Blackwater guards involved in the Sept. 16 shooting in west Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
Because the Iraqi draft law would not be retroactive, any punishment for those shootings would be left to the United States, said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. It is unclear what U.S. criminal laws might cover acts in a war zone; civilian contractors cannot be tried in military courts.