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Federal judge orders soldier back to Iraq

WASHINGTON -- A soldier who challenged an Army policy requiring him to serve past the date of his enlistment contract must return for duty in Iraq while his lawsuit is under review, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth refused to issue a temporary restraining order allowing Specialist David Qualls to remain in the United States, where he is home on leave. He is scheduled to fly to Iraq tomorrow.

"It appears to me the extension was legally proper," Lamberth said during the hourlong hearing. "I find no likelihood of success on the merits."

Qualls, 35, is one of eight soldiers challenging the stop-loss policy, which lets the Army extend enlistments during war or national emergencies to promote continuity and cohesiveness on the battlefield.

The lawsuit contends the enlistment contracts are misleading, because they make no explicit reference to the policy.

"Nothing in the contract that he signed says anything about involuntary enlistment," said Jules Lobel, Qualls's lawyer.

Justice Department lawyer Matt Lepore, representing the Army, argued that Qualls's enlistment contract has a provision that says he may be involuntarily ordered to active duty in the event of war, national emergency, or any other condition required by law. Lepore said the language should be read broadly to include extensions of existing contracts.

Lamberth agreed the language was clear enough and rejected Lobel's claim that the military conflict does not qualify as a war, because Congress never made a formal declaration of war. "I don't think the average person looking at this would think we had to have a declared war" for it to apply, the judge said.

About 7,000 active-duty soldiers have had their contracts extended under the policy.

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