soldiers sue pentagon over extended iraq duty

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    Eight US soldiers on Monday sued the Pentagon, claiming the military had extended their tours of duty in Iraq although their contracts had expired, their attorneys said.

    It is the only known court challenge by active-duty soldiers against the Defense Department's so-called stop-loss policy, said attorney Staughton Lynd. Seven of the soldiers in the lawsuit have asked to remain anonymous, but one of them, David Qualls, said at a news conference in Washington that the court challenge is over "a question of fairness."

    "I enlisted in July 2003. I completed and served that one year," David Qualls said. "I feel it is time to let me go back to my wife." Qualls, 35, signed a "Try One" contract on July 7 last year that allows a soldier to serve for one year before deciding whether to extend service. Qualls says no one told him about the stop-loss policy.

    Pentagon paperwork said Qualls was on the hook until 2031, when he will be over 60 years old, according to court papers. About 7,000 soldiers are affected at any given time by the policy, which bars them from leaving the military or moving to other units for an 18-month period if they are in units deployed or about to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Hart, an army spokeswoman.

    "It stops movement of soldiers so units can maintain integrity of strength," Hart said. "So, units that deploy together come home together." The other soldiers asked to remain anonymous "because they fear one or another kind of retaliation if their names became known," Lynd said.

    Six of the soldiers are stationed in Iraq, while the two others are in Kuwait and on their way to the embattled country, he said. "Our government has not been honest with Mr Qualls and the other seven plaintiffs in this action," said Jules Lobel, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

    "The government must tell them the key facts that may affect his enlistment. One key fact is how long" they are supposed to be enlisted, Lobel said. Qualls has been stationed at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, since March.

    It has been the target of suicide bombings and mortar attacks. "I am not against the war," Mr Qualls said. "I spent the last nine months in that combat zone. I think I fulfilled my duty."

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