Fri Jan 9, 7:13 am ET
BAGHDAD – American troops in Iraq will be allowed to drink beer without fear of court-martial for this year's Super Bowl — an exception to a strict military ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones.
In what is sure to be a major morale boost, the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Raymond Odierno issued a waiver Wednesday paving the way for troops to participate in the popular American football tradition.
Super Bowl XLIII will kick off on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Florida, but it will be 2 a.m. in Baghdad when the live broadcast starts in Iraq. Troops will gather in dining halls on military bases nationwide to watch the game.
A copy of the waiver said the consumption of alcoholic beverages will be limited to Feb. 1-2 and service members can only have two, 12-ounce beers each.
Odierno also appeared to acknowledge the sensitivity of drinking alcohol in an Islamic country, particularly considering the game falls during a holy period for Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims.
The waiver orders commanders to "keep in mind all host nation laws and customs regarding alcohol consumption" and "to exercise discretion and good judgment in enforcing these guidelines and restrictions."
U.S. troops have been banned from drinking, possessing or selling alcoholic beverages under a general order that also bans them from possessing pornography and other activities. They can face a reduction in pay or rank or even a court-martial if they violate the rule.
The Washington Post reported that several service members said the only other time the ban was lifted was in 2005, for troops operating under the Baghdad command.
Drinking alcohol isn't illegal in Iraq but is banned under Islam, and extremists have frequently targeted liquor stores.
The exemption comes as the U.S. military faces stricter Iraqi oversight under a new security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1.
Violence has declined dramatically over the past year, and the Americans are involved in less combat, focusing more on their training and advisory roles.