Iraq Revokes License of Blackwwater USA After Deaths

The Iraqi government has revoked the operating license of Blackwater USA after a preliminary investigation found that the company’s contractors had fired without provocation on Iraqi civilians on Sunday, killing 11 people and wounding 13.

Amid widespread public outrage in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Wednesday that he would not tolerate “the killing of our citizens in cold blood”.

Blackwater is the private security firm contracted by the US State Department to guard most of its diplomatic convoys in Iraq.

Yassin Majid, an advisor to Mr Maliki, said the killings had forced the government to take immediate action against Blackwater while it conducted an investigation. “They were not subjected to the kind of attack or shooting that required a response of this intensity that led to the death of civilians,” he said. “This incident embarrassed the government and also embarrassed the American government.”

Blackwater guards insist that the convoy they were protecting on Sunday came under fire from 8-10 people about 2km from the heavily fortified Green Zone. They said some of those shooting at the motorcade were dressed in Iraqi police uniforms, and that one US vehicle had been “disabled”.

The American embassy in Baghdad has since said that a car bomb exploded near the motorcade while it was stuck in traffic at Nisoor traffic circle – a congested commercial area in northwestern Baghdad – and fired in response to that incident.

However, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh denied that a car bomb had exploded near the convoy. He said the preliminary investigation found that Blackwater had first fired on a car when it failed to come to a complete stop, killing the couple and child traveling in the car. They then opened fire on other civilians.

Mr Dabbagh said that the legal framework set up in 2004 by the Coalition Provisional Authority which grants criminal immunity to US-employed private security contractors would be thrown out, without any input from the US. “They should not have immunity for their mistakes,” he said. “If they have made a mistake, they should be subjected to the law.”

Iraq’s Minister for the Interior, Jawad al-Bolani, agreed. “This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent in front of,” he said. “Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis. We apply the law and are committed to it.”

Private security contractors in Iraq must register with the Interior Ministry and obtain weapons permits in order to operate.

After being told that the Iraqi government had suspended Blackwater’s license, the US embassy in Baghdad was forced to suspend most of its diplomatic convoys.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rang Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki on Monday afternoon to express her regret “over the death of innocent civilians that occurred during the attack on an embassy convoy” and to vow that she would “take immediate steps to show the United States’ willingness to prevent such actions”.

Seizing upon the fresh wave of anti-US sentiment in Iraq, firebrand Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said the Iraqi government should ban all foreign “criminal intelligence firms” brought into Iraq by the US occupiers. However, he did not issue a threat that his Mahdi Army militia would retaliate for the killings.

Iraqis have long regarded private security contractors as trigger-happy mercenaries who are not held accountable for their actions. In particular, Blackwater contractors are well-known for their cowboy-style antics of wild shooting, reckless driving and abusive behavior.

“Blackwater has a reputation,” said James Sammons, a former Australian Special Air Service commander who now works for British-based AKE Group, which also provides security in Iraq. “If you want over-over-the-top, gun-toting security with high profile and all the bells and whistles, Blackwater are the people you are going to go with.”

Local Iraqis have come to fear the sight of any private security contractor on the streets of Baghdad.

“We see the security firms doing whatever they want in the streets. They beat citizens and scorn them,” said Baghdad resident Halim Mashkoor. “If such a thing happened in America … would the American president or American citizens accept it?”

Sources: Times Online, New York Times, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times

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