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THE HURT LOCKER: A New Kind of War Movie

The Review

Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.

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  • The Hurt Locker

    The Review

    Eric Randolph reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and notes a shift in film-making sensibilities from the war-as-heroics paradigm of earlier Hollywood, towards the everyman's war-as-hell model that has now lodged itself in Western cultural consciousness.

    Read more...

  • The Occidental Guerrilla

    Book Review

    Michael A. Innes reviews David Kilcullen's new book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. A timely and astute synthesis of experience, research and analysis, the author pinpoints the political shear between minority existential threats to US interests and the majority of the world's locally invested guerrillas who just want to be left alone.

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  • Architecture & Biopolitics

    Interview

    Berlin-based writer Daniel Miller's October 2008 interview with Swedish philosopher and SITE Magazine Editor-In-Chief Sven-Olov Wallenstein, on his new book Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).

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  • Wired For War

    Symposium

    The second symposium in CTlab's 2009 series, focused on Peter Singer's new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009), ran from 30 March to 2 April. Singer and half a dozen scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Austria debated the use and ethics of robots in war.

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  • DEFCON 17

    Current Intelligence

    Tim Stevens reports back from the DEFCON 17 conference in Las Vegas: are hackers thinking meat isn't just meat anymore?

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Monday
27Jul2009

The Legal Quagmire Of SOFA

Last Tuesday an American force traveling in a suburb of Baghdad was attacked by insurgents. The Americans defended themselves and pursued the attackers, in the process killing three Iraqi bystanders. Later, an Iraqi government force arrived at the scene and wanted to arrest the Americans for firing indiscriminately. The American commander talked down the Iraqis and on Saturday Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the Iraqi officer's actions "out of line". However, the anonymous 'Gunslinger' on the new counterinsurgency blog Ink Spots thinks the incident is a bad omen:

"This is an incident that shows that both sides don't interpret the rules the same and that could (let's emphasize that word) cause an incident that won't end as well as this one did. It creates an environment that is conducive to problematic encounters. If an IA captain wants to arrest some US soldiers, well, let's just say that I'm pretty sure that my soldiers when I was in Iraq would have not let that happen. I'm not sure I would let it happen if I was in command and felt I had engaged as a response in self-defense. How do the folks on the ground difuse the situation? I don't have answer for that, but it will be a lot of angry people with guns on the scene."

I am not an expert on counterinsurgency nor the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), so I leave it up to readers to decide. Will this be an isolated incident or a preview for things to come?

Reader Comments (5)

I can't speak to whether this will be an omen of worsening field relations between US and Iraqi forces. However, just speaking to the text of the US-Iraq SOFA, article 4(4) on missions, among several other references, authorizes military missions in assistance to the government of Iraq and provides specifically that international law governing self defence will apply in such situations. The effect of this, at least so far as the US military interpretation of this goes, is that when attacked or otherwise put into a situation in which use of force as self-defense is warranted, US forces are authorized to use force in line with (a) IHL and (b) any limitation of US self imposed rules of engagement. They are not required under the agreement to limit themselves to self defense pursuant to a withdrawal, but are authorized to treat it as combat and pursue and remove the threat in combat terms (that is, not in law enforcement terms). Standard IHL rules of proportionality apply, although the US, in consultation with the Iraqi government, can impose higher standards if they want, and in particular kinds or circumstances or locales; so far as I know from asking some JAG friends, the US has not done this. Bottom line is that if attacked, it's combat and governed by combat rules, and that's what the SOFA grants.

Jul 27, 2009 at 22:19 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Anderson

Kenneth - you are absolutely correct. What I was trying to highlight is that the soldiers on the ground from both countries could have divergent views on what constitutes legal self-defense. While the American soldiers were probably within their rights under the agreement, ROE, and IHL, that doesn't much matter if an Iraqi commander who responds to the incident doesn't think that they were within their rights and really wants to do something about it. I don't think this particular incident will strain relations as it resolved itself and PM Maliki supported the US side of things. I do believe it is an omen that portends future incidents that may not be resolved in such an acceptable manner (for instance Iraqi and American soldiers shooting at each other). And that incident that could occur would strain relations.

Jul 27, 2009 at 23:46 | Unregistered CommenterGunslinger

I am sure you're right about that - and of course, the law only gets you so far in dealing on the ground.

Jul 28, 2009 at 2:12 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Anderson

Gunslinger, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Setting aside the specifics of any particular SOFA agreement, and what we're seeing, in my humble opinion, is symptomatic of a larger problem; the complexity of modern warfare brings with it a weave of murky interpretive issues. Force Protection, LEGAD, and ROE briefings are all well and good, but at the hard end of the day, troops on the ground facing life and death circumstances are being forced to make split second judgement calls on issues that the experts themselves have a hard time sifting through. Throw stratcom issues into the mix, where perceptions of authority, legitimacy and sovereignty need to be factored in, and things could get even messier. Strategic Corporal as Strategic Communicator.

Jul 28, 2009 at 7:25 | Registered CommenterMike Innes

ps. the Opinio Juris discussion on Kal Raustiala's book on the territoriality of the US constitution has multiple interventions - along with a section of the book itself - on SOFA and how they affect legal rights around the world, including Iraq and other places.

Jul 29, 2009 at 3:43 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Anderson

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