- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

The U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Iraq in fall 2005 forbade troops from entering mosques, even during a firefight, without the permission of senior regional commanders, who would consult Iraqi authorities.

The rules, which likely have been amended since, also:

• Mandated that any planned strike that might cause more than 30 civilian casualties be authorized personally by the secretary of defense.

• Provided wide-ranging authority to detain Iraqis and search their homes and workplaces.

• Allowed commanders on the ground to take part in 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 during the weekend by the organization Wikileaks, which says it aims to provide a secure way for whistleblowers to “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 — although commanders on the ground may return fire, or even call in air strikes 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.”

“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.”

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

“Anything you are using [from which to fire], even a hospital, becomes a dual-use structure” and can be targeted, he said.

The rules went “above and beyond the requirements of international law,” he said. “They are thinking, ‘How’s that gonna play on Al Jazeera?’ ”

Mr. Exum said the rules still provided sufficient flexibility for troops at the front line. “It doesn’t restrain [their] reaction.”

Marc Garlasco, a former senior Pentagon official who is now an analyst at the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, said the restrictions on strikes where high collateral damage can be expected demonstrate the military’s concern about civilian deaths.

The rules define 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 high collateral damage strikes, even against so-called fleeting or time-sensitive targets, the approval of the secretary of defense is required. 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 Mr. 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 policy not to comment on rules of engagement, and the authenticity of the document had not been verified.

But several analysts who were shown the document by United Press International agreed that it appeared genuine. Previous documents provided by the same source, who calls himself Peryton, according to Wikileaks organizers, have proved to be genuine.

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