Special Forces troops heading to Iraq to advise the Iraqi security forces will receive combat pay and also have immunity from local law, Pentagon officials said.
"Imminent Danger Pay is, and will be, in effect for service members deployed to Iraq," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mail statement Saturday.
The statement followed a briefing Friday by Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, at which he was asked about danger pay for the Special Forces in Iraq and initially responded that "Our combat mission in Iraq ended in 2011. This is not a combat mission."
Kirby added that he would have to check on the details of the pay issue but repeated "This is not a combat mission." Christensen later said that the troops in Iraq would be receiving IDP of $7.50 daily up to $225 per month. .
Last month, the Defense Deparment eliminated "imminent danger pay" for troops serving in neighboring Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and also in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Kirby added that the troops going to Iraq to assess the state of Iraqi forces and advise them on combating the extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will not be subject to Iraqi law in case of an incident, Kirby said.
U.S. forces returning to Iraq will be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Kirby said.
"I can assure you they will have all legal protections," Kirby said.
U.S. military personnel currently in Iraq at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are covered by the diplomatic immunity of the State Department. The refusal of Iraq to give immunity from local law to U.S. troops was a major factor in the failure to reach a Status of Forces agreement that led to the 2011 withdrawal.
Critics of the Obama administration have argued that the White House failed to put enough effort into the negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed a training and advisory force to remain in Iraq.
In announcing the decision to send the 300 Special Forces troops, President Obama said Thursday that the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was to blame for the impasse over immunity for U.S. troops that led to the withdrawal.
In Iraq Friday, government forces reportedly were regrouping north of Baghdad in preparation for a push against ISIS fighters who have taken over large swaths of territory north and west of the capital including the Mosul, the second largest city, Reuters reported.
"The strategy has been for the last few days to have a new defense line to stop the advance" of ISIS fighters attacking in pickup trucks, a Maliki ally told Reuters. "We succeeded in blunting the advance and now are trying to get back areas unnecessarily lost."
Pentagon officials gave a similar assessment. "We're starting to see some cohesiveness and some fight" from the Iraqi forces, Kirby said.
Iraqi troops were also attempting to push ISIS fighters out of the northern town of Baiji, site of Iraq's largest oil refinery, Kirby said.
"It's still unclear in whose hands it sits," Kirby said of Baiji.
The Special Forces troops going to Iraq will be drawn from the U.S. Central Command and were expected to begin arriving in about a week, Kirby said.
In the meantime, small teams drawn from U.S. military personnel at the Embassy from the Office of Security Cooperation, which oversees military sales to Iraq, will take up assignments advising the Iraqi forces.
Their missions will be to determine the morale and status of the Iraqi forces, develop a clearer picture of the situation on the ground and set out an agenda for the arriving Special Forces troops, Kirby said.
When asked if the Special Forces would coordinate targeting for possible airstrikes, Kirby said "The President hasn't made that decision." Last week, the U.S. moved the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush into the Persian Gulf to be closer to Iraq should airstrikes be ordered.
The U.S. also has attack aircraft in Turkey, Kuwait, and Qatar, but it was unclear if those states would give the U.S. permission to conduct bombing raids from their territory.
Kirby declined to put a timeline on how long the Special Forces troops might stay in Iraq but "we're not introducing American troops into Iraq for a lengthy stay."
"It's not an occupation. It's not an invasion. It's a temporary arrangement," he said.
Kirby acknowledged reports that ISIS fighters had overrun overrun a facility north of Baghdad that was used decades ago to produce chemical weapons, but he said it was an old facility that was "not likely to be able to be accessed or used."
If ISIS fighters were to attempt to use it to produce chemical weapons, "it's likely to be more of a threat to them than to anyone else," Kirby said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that ISIS "has occupied the Al Muthanna complex," a former chemical weapons facility about 36 miles northwest of Baghdad that was heavily bombed by the U.S. in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site" by the group, Psaki said in a statement. "We do not believe that the complex contains CW (chemical weapons) materials of military value, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com
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