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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blackwater Guards Fired First: Iraqi Report

This is from the NY Times op eds. These are now available to everyone. Hurrah! Without Blackwater US diplomatic missions will be grounded since Blackwater protects them. Most commentators have no criticism of the fact that private contractors are beyond the reach of Iraqi law in cases such as these.

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First


By SABRINA TAVERNISE and JAMES GLANZ
Published: September 19, 2007
BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving an American diplomatic motorcade said Tuesday that Blackwater security guards were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.


The Reach of War
» The report, by the Ministry of Interior, was presented to the Iraqi cabinet and, though unverified, seemed to contradict an account offered by Blackwater USA that the guards were responding to gunfire by militants. The report said Blackwater helicopters had also fired. The Ministry of Defense said 20 Iraqis had been killed, a far higher number than had been reported before.

In a sign of the seriousness of the standoff, the American Embassy here suspended diplomatic missions outside the Green Zone and throughout Iraq on Tuesday.

“There was not shooting against the convoy,” said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman. “There was no fire from anyone in the square.”

A State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said he had not heard of the report and repeated that the department was conducting an investigation supported by the American military. A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

“Let these folks do the investigation and get all the facts,” Mr. Vasquez said, “and if department procedures were not followed, after the facts have been gathered we would decide what action to take.”

The shooting, which took place on Sunday, has angered Iraqi officials and touched off a harsh debate about private security companies, which operate outside Iraqi law, a privilege extended to them by Americans officials while Iraq’s government was still under American administration. Blackwater, which guards all top American officials here, had its work suspended, and Iraqi officials agreed to rewrite the rules to make the companies accountable.

“We do understand that the security companies are subject to high levels of threat and they do a good job at protection, but this does not entitle them to immunity from Iraqi laws,” Mr. Dabbagh said. “This is what the Iraqi government would like to review.”

He said the Iraqi and American governments had set up a joint committee to investigate the deaths.

American Embassy officials had said Monday that the Blackwater guards had been responding to a car bomb, but Mr. Dabbagh said the bomb was so far away that it could not possibly have been a reason for the convoy to begin shooting.

Instead, he said, the convoy had initiated the shooting when a car did not heed a police officer and moved into an intersection.

“The traffic policeman was trying to open the road for them,” he said. “It was a crowded square. But one small car did not stop. It was moving very slowly. They shot against the couple and their child. They started shooting randomly.”

In video shot shortly after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire, according to an official who saw it.

In interviews on Tuesday, six Iraqis who had been in the area at the time of the shooting, including a man who was wounded and an Iraqi Army soldier who helped rescue people, offered roughly similar versions.

The Iraqi soldier, who said he was standing at a checkpoint on the edge of the square, said he thought the convoy believed the small car was a suicide bomber and opened fire. According to the wounded man, recuperating in Yarmouk Hospital, the car with the family was driving on the wrong side of the road.

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