Iraq vows to punish Blackwater | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 09, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 09, 2007

Iraq vows to punish Blackwater

Iraq has vowed to punish US security firm Blackwater after a probe found that its guards were not provoked when they opened "deliberate" fire in Baghdad three weeks ago, killing 17 civilians.
The US embassy was tight-lipped on Monday on whether those involved in the September 16 killings would be handed over for prosecution in a case that has thrown the spotlight on the often controversial work of private security operators in Iraq.
"This and other matters will be discussed by the joint commission as they proceed with their work, (so it is) best not to prejudge the outcome of their discussions at this point," embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told AFP, referring to a joint Iraq-US inquiry into the shootings.
The Iraqi government said in its report into the killings in Nisoor Square released on Sunday that the Blackwater guards were unprovoked when they opened fire and that they should face legal punishment.
"The investigation committee appointed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ... has finished its inquiry and has found that there was no evidence that the convoy of Blackwater came under fire directly or indirectly," a government statement said.
"It was not touched even by a stone," it said.
"Employees of the company violated the rules governing use of force by security companies," it said. "They have committed a deliberate crime and should be punished under the law."
It gave the number of dead from the shootings as 17, considerably higher than the previous toll according to which at least 10 people had been killed. The statement said 22 people had been wounded.
The Iraqi government would now take "judicial measures to punish the company," the statement said.
Blackwater, employed to protect US government personnel in Iraq, maintains its men were legitimately responding to an ambush while escorting a US State Department convoy.
Nantongo said the Iraqi government report into Blackwater -- the largest private security firm in Iraq -- had been debated during the first meeting of the joint commission in Baghdad on Sunday.
"The commission discussed the status of the Iraqi and US investigations," she said.
The commission is looking at the September 16 incident involving Blackwater as well as at the wider business of private security contractors in Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's envoy, ambassador Patrick Kennedy, is also conducting an overall review of how the State Department conducts its protective security detail operations in Iraq.
Nantongo said on Monday that another two members of Kennedy's team are expected in Iraq this week and it was not clear when they would complete their task.
"It is still too early to talk about timelines," she said.
Based on Kennedy's initial findings, Rice on Friday tightened control of Blackwater's operations in Iraq, ordering security agents from the State Department to accompany every convoy.
The State Department said on Thursday it had ceded the lead role in the investigation of Blackwater, which is accused of involvement in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq, to the FBI.
Nantongo said a team of FBI investigators had arrived in Baghdad last Thursday and was involved in the investigations.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has also launched a review on his department's use of private security contractors.
Sunday's meeting of the joint commission was co-chaired by Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim and the US embassy's Patricia Butenis.
The commission comprises five embassy representatives, three from the US military and eight Iraqis.
"The two sides agreed to continue their coordination and to complete the process of inquiry in order to prevent the recurrence of any incidents in the future," said a statement from the committee heads.

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