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WASHINGTON — All military contractors in Iraq will likely lose their immunity from Iraqi law starting in January, according to officials from the State and Defense Departments.

Leaders from both agencies met Thursday with representatives from 172 contractors currently operating in Iraq to brief them about changes in their legal status once the new security agreement is approved, officials confirmed.

That Status of Forces Agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay in the country past Dec. 31 is expected to be finalized by both countries’ governments in the next few weeks.

U.S. troops and civilian Defense Department employees would still enjoy immunity under the plan as currently written. But defense contractors would be subject to Iraqi laws, could be arrested and detained by Iraqi police and would have to get Ministry of Interior permits to carry guns, a senior Defense Department official said.

Contractors working for the military would also still be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Military Extraterritorial Judicial Act.

In a statement given to contractors Thursday, the Defense Department said embassy officials are working to "help ensure that any United States contractor or grantee accused of a crime is treated fairly."

But it also emphasized the move towards greater Iraq sovereignty is in the best interest of both nations.

"In the future, contractors and grantees can expect to be fully subject to Iraqi criminal and civil law," the statement said. "This will bring their status into line with that of most contractors elsewhere, including Afghanistan."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met privately with lawmakers this week to discuss the legal status of the contractors and other issues surrounding the new agreements.

According to department statistics, the military currently employs about 163,000 contractors in Iraq, around 28,000 of whom are American citizens.

Nearly half of the contractors are Iraqi nationals and therefore are already subject to local laws. Also, the senior Defense Department official said many of the contractors already provide security or other services to Iraqi government agencies along with their U.S. contracts, and are already subject to local regulations.

Still, State Department officials acknowledged that both their contractors and the military ones have expressed concerns about treatment at the hands of Iraqi law enforcement and whether they could face retroactive prosecution.

The document does not specify whether contractors could face charges for past events, the defense official said.

The SOFA also does not specifically cover the 5,500 State Department contractors currently working in Iraq, but a senior official from the department said he expects new legislation covering them based on the SOFA provisions to be approved by the Iraqi parliament early next year.

Both Iraqi and U.S. leaders know the work of contractors is vital to stabilization efforts, he said, and are committed to "making this work."

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