International figures keywords:
AHEAD OF November's presidential election, the Bush administration is attempting to establish 50 permanent US armed bases in Iraq.
According to The Independent's Patrick Cockburn, a new treaty with the beleaguered Iraqi government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki would allow US troops to "occupy permanent bases, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law". For good measure, Washington also wants control of Iraqi air space. As Cockburn remarks, this treaty will "destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict".
But Bush's plans to turn Iraq into a US colony, supported by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, could come unstuck if Iraq's Shia leaders - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - force Maliki to hold a referendum on the treaty.
War crimes immunity
MEANWHILE, A US military jury has acquitted a marine of charges that he helped cover up the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha in Iraq, in 2005. Four marines and four officers were initially charged with murder and with failing to investigate the deaths, but the case against five of them was dropped.
Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men at the scene of a car bombing. The troops were then accused of going into nearby houses and killing a further 19 civilians.
There was no full US investigation into what happened until January 2006, when video footage emerged of the aftermath. And an investigation by Time magazine said that most of the dead Iraqis were shot by marines after the bombing.
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