Iraq Demands Money for Blackwater Killings

Handing down its report into the September 16 incident in which Blackwater contractors gunned down 17 civilians in Baghdad, the Iraqi government has demanded that the company pay $136 million in compensation to the families of the victims, that the US terminate all contracts with Blackwater in Iraq within six months and that the contractors involved in the shooting be turned over to the Iraqi government to face criminal charges.

The report also provides details of the events leading up to the incident which has set the stage for an unprecedented showdown between the US and Iraqi governments.

The findings of the report, translated from Arabic by the Associated Press, reveal the level of anger of Iraqis still feel towards the US and Blackwater over the incident, which the Iraqis have compared to the terrorist bombing that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

Libya eventually paid compensation of $8 million per victim to their families – which is the amount being demanded per victim for the September 16 shootings in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

The Iraqi government said the amount being demanded from Blackwater is justified “because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country”.

Although the US military pays compensation to families whose loved ones are killed or whose property is damaged during battles in Iraq, the amounts paid in such cases are believed to be substantially lower.

The report also warns the US government that it has six months to replace Blackwater contractors in Iraq, and that the contractors involved in the shootings must be handed over to Iraqi authorities so they can face criminal charges in the local courts.

The Iraqi government rejects the claim that the Blackwater contractors are legally immune under a 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority decree issued by former US Ambassador to Iraq Paul Bremer. The Iraqis insist that the decree, which is in the process of being repealed by the Iraqi government, does not cover incidents such as the Nisoor Square shootings, in which the contractors are alleged to have opened fire without provocation on unarmed civilians.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which licenses private security contractors and their weapons, also pointed out that Blackwater’s license in Iraq expired in June 2006 –so in any event the company is not covered by the 2004 CPA decree.

US officials and Blackwater have so far refused to comment.

Blackwater has repeatedly insisted that its contractors were forced to shoot back when they came under small arms fire in Nisoor Square; however, Iraqi investigators said they found no evidence to back up Blackwater’s story.

The report focuses on dozens of witness accounts of the following events, as translated by the Associated Press:

On the morning of September 16, two Blackwater Mambas (gun trucks) were escorting a three-car convoy for a USAID reconstruction specialist who was visiting a site two miles from the Green Zone. When a car bomb exploded a few streets away at about noon, the specialist was quickly bundled back into her vehicle by Blackwater guards who began to lead the convoy back to the Green Zone.

As the convoy approached Nisoor Square, a busy commercial area heavily congested with traffic, Blackwater contractors radioed their base for backup. Four Mambas arrived at the square at 12.15 p.m. to provide additional protection for the convoy.

Before the convoy made it into the square, a Blackwater contractor began firing on a white car driven by a 20 year-old third-year medical student who was with his 46 year-old mother, a local doctor. The student was shot through the forehead, killing him instantly. Witnesses said that as his mother cradled him and shrieked, the car continued rolling forward and came under sustained gunfire. Two traffic policemen who tried to rescue the woman had to run for cover. The car exploded in flames, killing her and charring her remains along with her son’s.

The two policemen also said that Blackwater helicopters buzzing overhead had joined in the gunfire, spraying the crowded street with bullets. One man survived his injuries by rolling out of his car and onto the street.

A local automotive business owner who lost his 10 year-old son in the incident told Iraqi investigators that when he was interviewed by US military officers, he overheard witnesses say that one Blackwater guard could be seen shouting and trying to stop the shooting – he had even pulled his gun on the others. Yet the other contractors ignored him and continued firing into the traffic.

The actual convoy, still stuck in traffic blocks from Nisoor Square, was radioed and told to take an alternative route back to the Green Zone. The four Blackwater Mambas then drove against traffic out of Nisoor Square, firing randomly into cars as they left the scene.

The report also said that after the shootings, a different Blackwater convoy tried to enter Nisoor Square. It was blocked by Iraqi police using large water trucks. A heated argument ensued between the police and the contractors, with weapons drawn on both sides.

The tense standoff was resolved when the US military arrived and convinced the Blackwater contractors to turn around and head back to the Green Zone.

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