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Analysis: Rules stop U.S. entering mosques

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Shaun Waterman
Washington (UPI) Feb 4, 2008
The U.S. military's rules of engagement in Iraq in the fall of 2005 forbade troops from entering mosques, even during a firefight, without the permission of senior commanders who would consult Iraqi authorities.

The rules, which have likely been amended since, also mandated that any planned strike that might cause more than 30 civilian casualties had to be personally authorized by the secretary of defense; provided enormously wide-ranging authority to detain Iraqi civilians and search their homes and workplaces; and allowed commanders on the ground to initiate hot pursuit -- and pre-emptive strikes against threats from insurgents or terrorists -- across the border into Syria and Iran.

A copy of the rules, which are classified, was posted on the Web at the weekend by the organization Wikileaks, which says it aims to provide a secure way whistleblowers can "reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations" and favors government transparency.

In a special section on mosques and religious structures, the rules specify that -- though commanders on the ground may return fire, or even call in airstrikes, against a mosque that is being used by enemy forces -- U.S. troops will not enter such buildings, even during fighting, "without the approval of the (senior regional commander) in coordination with (the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior)."

If approval is granted, the rules say, Iraqi security forces will enter the building, "with cordon support from U.S. forces."

Similar restrictions govern the detention of clerics or imams.

"This is a very encouraging document," said Andrew Exum, a U.S. Army Ranger and counterinsurgency specialist who fought in Iraq and is now studying Islamist groups at King's College, London.

"It shows that somebody's done some thinking about how to deal with a very complex and confusing kinetic and cultural battleground żż They are really trying to get their head around" a new type of warfare, he said.

Exum said that the Geneva Conventions allowed military action against so-called dual-use structures.

"Anything you are using (to fire from) żż even a hospital, becomes a dual-use structure" and can be targeted, he said.

The U.S. rules went "above and beyond the requirements of international law," he said. "They are thinking, 'How's that gonna play on al-Jazeera?'"

Exum said the rules still provided sufficient flexibility for troops at the frontline. "It doesn't restrain (their) reaction."

He said the rules specified they were a baseline and that area commanders in the field could issue more restrictive rules if they wished. "They are trying to preserve as much flexibility as possible for the commanders on the ground," he said.

Marc Garlasco, a former senior Pentagon official who is now an analyst at the non-profit Human Rights Watch, said the restrictions on strikes classified as high collateral damage showed the military's concerns about civilian deaths.

The rules define kinetic (i.e. artillery or aircraft) strikes that have a 10 percent chance of causing 30 or more civilian casualties as high collateral damage actions.

In any situation where U.S. forces are facing or engaging the enemy, commanders on the ground have the authority to conduct any strikes that are "proportional."

But for all other strikes, even ones against so-called fleeting or time-sensitive targets, the approval of the secretary of defense is required if they are classed as high collateral damage. If time constraints make that impossible, say the rules, the commander of U.S. Central Command may give the go-ahead.

"That's pretty restrictive," said Garlasco. He said he had been told by military officials that the threshold for high collateral damage actions was now lower than 30. "They said it was lower, but they wouldn't tell me by how much," he said.

A spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad said it was their policy not to comment on rules of engagement, and the authenticity of the document could not immediately be verified, but several experts UPI showed it to agreed that it appeared genuine. Previous documents provided by the same source, who calls himself Peryton, according to Wikileaks organizers, have proved to be authentic.

Garlasco also noted that the rules contained very broad authority for U.S. forces to engage potential enemies.

In Afghanistan, he noted, most U.S. allies operate under rules that specify they must be taking fire from individuals before they can be engaged. In the U.S. rules, the standard is that potential targets much demonstrate "hostile intent."

"That is very subjective," he said, adding the definition was "wishy-washy żż overly broad."

The rules state: "Evidence necessary to determine hostile intent will vary depending on the state of international or regional political tension, military preparations, intelligence, and indication and warning information."

"The way this is written, that could be just (an individual) walking around," Garlasco said.

The rules provide broad authority for detaining Iraqis and searching their homes. "In order to ensure the security and stability of Iraq," they state, on-scene commanders are "authorized to cordon and search any residence, structure or facility in Iraq if (he or she) has a reasonable belief that the target contains enemy forces, individuals assisting enemy forces, weapons, ammunition, important information, or any materials, equipment or contraband that may be used by enemy forces during hostilities."

The same standard applies to the detention of Iraqi civilians where there is "reasonable belief" that they "(1) are or were engaged in criminal activity; (2) interfere with mission accomplishment; (3) are on a list of persons wanted for questioning for criminal or security threat actions; or (4) detention is necessary for imperative reasons of security."

The rules also provide authority for U.S. commanders on-scene to cross Iraq's borders "to conduct uninterrupted pursuit and engagement of positively identified" enemy forces.

On-scene commanders can also act pre-emptively against "imminent" threats originating in Iran or Syria, where those countries' forces "cannot or will not prevent a hostile force from using their airspace, land territory, internal waters or territorial seas to attack" U.S. troops.

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