U.S. officials say American troops serving in Iraq after next week's transfer of power would be immune from prosecution in local courts under an agreement in principle between the United States and the interim Iraqi government.
U.S. Army General George Casey, who is to become the top multinational military commander in Iraq after the U.S.-led coalition transfers power to the Iraqis next week, says U.S. troops will continue to be immune from Iraqi prosecution following the handover.
General Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that U.S. administrator Paul Bremer has taken steps to renew the immunity order, known as "Order 17."
"The understanding I have now is that Ambassador Bremer has modified his Order number 17 to take out the provisions that directly drew his authority from occupation law, but still provides us with the same protections that we had under the original provision," he said.
General Casey said Mr. Bremer would complete negotiations on the final wording before next week's handover.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, urged General Casey to make sure the agreement is upheld.
"I hope you will put your own personal attention to that, because it is terribly serious, and our forces are following orders of their commanders and they might well participate in some operation which eventually would come under the scrutiny of the future Iraqi judicial system and we have got to provide the protection of our forces as well as the coalition forces," he said.
The message from the White House was the same. Spokesman Scott McClellan said U.S. troops would face justice in the U.S. legal system rather than in local Iraqi courts, saying in his words, "you are talking about parts of the world where due process may not be guaranteed."
The issue of immunity for U.S. troops is a contentious one following the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Grhaib prison in Iraq. Some U.S. troops face charges by the U.S. military in connection with the scandal.
Some 140,000 U.S. troops are serving in Iraq, along with 25,000 other foreign troops.