- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - American troops in Iraq will be allowed to drink beer without fear of court-martial for this year’s Super Bowl - an exception to a strict military ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones.

In what is sure to be a major morale boost, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, issued a waiver Wednesday paving the way for troops to participate in the popular American football tradition.

Super Bowl XLIII will be played Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla., but it will be 2 a.m. in Baghdad when the live broadcast starts in Iraq. Troops will gather in dining halls on military bases nationwide to watch the game.

A copy of the waiver said the consumption of alcoholic beverages will be allowed only Feb. 1-2 and service members will be limited to two 12-ounce beers each.

Odierno, who is from northern New Jersey and played tight end at the U.S. Military Academy, will be rooting for the New York Giants, said his spokesman, Col. James Hutton. The Giants play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday a second-round playoff match.

Odierno appeared to acknowledge the sensitivity of drinking alcohol in an Islamic country, particularly considering the Super Bowl falls during a holy period for Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslims.

The waiver orders commanders to “keep in mind all host nation laws and customs regarding alcohol consumption” and “to exercise discretion and good judgment in enforcing these guidelines and restrictions.”

U.S. troops in Iraq have been banned from drinking, possessing or selling alcoholic beverages under a general order that also bans them from possessing pornography and other activities. They can face a reduction in pay or rank or even a court-martial if they violate the rule.

Drinking alcohol isn’t illegal in Iraq but is banned under Islam, and Muslim extremists have frequently targeted liquor stores.

The exemption comes as the U.S. military faces stricter Iraqi oversight under a new security agreement that took effect Jan. 1.

Violence has declined dramatically over the past year, and the Americans are involved in less combat, focusing more on their training and advisory roles.

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