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Process in Place for Iraqis to Make Damage Claims

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2003 – The United States will pay Iraqi claims for damages that are caused by the negligent or wrongful acts of U.S. soldiers, coalition officials said in Baghdad Aug. 3.

As of July 31, American officials have already adjudicated 1,496 claims and paid 1,168 in the amount of $262,945. Some 2,517 claims have been made against the United States.

The claims are made under the Foreign Claims Act, which provides that the military may pay claims for the wrongful or negligent acts of its forces to inhabitants of foreign countries who file claims. Military commissions adjudicate these claims. In Iraq, there are 31 Foreign Claims Commissions. At brigade level, a military lawyer or judge can award damages up to $2,500. At division level, a lawyer or judge can award up to $15,000 in damages. At the Combined Joint Task Force 7 level, a three-person panel can award up to $50,000.

Claims that exceed $50,000 are sent to U.S. Army Claims Service for adjudication, officials said.

Every claim made is looked at individually, officials said. The panels examine whether the Foreign Claims Act applies to the claim and ask "is it (the claim) for the negligent or wrongful act of a member of the force; is it in an amount certain, and most importantly, is it for something other than the combat activity of United States forces," said a task force official in Baghdad.

"And this is a very key point," the official continued. "It's what is known as the combat exclusion, because under the Foreign Claims Act, consistent with the law of war and consistent with the practice of other nations, payments are not authorized for damage, for injury, for death that is the result of combat activities of U.S. forces."

While President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1, low- intensity combat operations continue. Damage caused by these operations may not be remunerated.

Officials said the claims paid so far are for property loss or damage. They said there are probably "wrongful death" claims in the system that have not been adjudicated yet. Officials will use the traditions of Iraq to set the damages paid for wrongful death.

The burden of proof is on the claimant to prove he suffered a loss and what the value is. "Ways of doing that would be statements from other individuals -- if they have receipts, photographs," officials said. "If it's serious enough, there may be a military investigation done on it."

If the claimant is not satisfied with the decision, there is an appeals process, officials said.

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