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Blackwater's legal protections might end

July 6, 2008 at 6:40 PM

WASHINGTON, July 6 (UPI) -- Blackwater Worldwide, the private U.S. security contractor guarding diplomats in Baghdad, may no longer have immunity from Iraqi courts, sources say.

The U.S. State Department has agreed to stop protecting employees of Blackwater and other American contractors in Iraq from prosecution in Iraqi courts, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Sunday. The State Department said little about the agreement.

"We don't go into detail on the negotiations," said department spokesman Karl Duckworth.

The newspaper reported a new agreement is critical to keeping the U.S. effort in Iraq on solid legal footing.

American forces in Iraq operate under a United Nations mandate that will expire in December. American authorities conferred immunity on thousands of U.S. contractors in Iraq beginning in 2004, before Iraq's sovereignty was restored.

Eugene Fidell, who teaches law at Yale University and is president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said he's doubtful the State Department could provide diplomatic protections from prosecution to Blackwater employees.

"The Iraqis weren't born yesterday," Fidell said, noting they are unlikely to agree to such an arrangement.

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