Iraqi government may ban Blackwater security group
An incident that left eight Iraqi civilians dead has raised concerns about the private military contractor in Iraq.
The Iraqi government said it would suspend the license of Blackwater, probably the most famous among the armies of private security contractors working inside Iraq, after an incident in central Baghdad in which government officials allege eight civilians were killed. The incident looks certain to rekindle the controversy of the wide role given to the contractors in the Iraq war, with critics saying that they operate outside the sorts of legal oversight and codes of conduct that restrict the behavior of soldiers in war zones.Skip to next paragraph
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Blackwater first became famous after four of its contractors were murdered in Fallujah in early 2004, an event that prompted an American assault on that city that engendered widespread anger against the US inside the country.
Reuters reports that the government is vowing a tough line with Blackwater, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saying the incident was a "criminal act." An Interior Ministry spokesman said the contractors, working for a US security firm, "opened fire randomly at citizens" on Sunday after mortar rounds landed near their cars.
"We formed a committee to investigate the incident and withdraw the license from this company and also to deliver those who committed this act to the court," Brigadier-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told Reuters.
The U.S. military said on Sunday security contractors working for the State Department were involved in an incident, but gave no further details.
Khalaf said the contractors opened fire after two mortar rounds landed in Nusour Square in the western Baghdad district of Mansour.
"By chance the company was passing by. They opened fire randomly at citizens," Khalaf said. Eleven people were killed, including one policeman, and 13 people were wounded, he said.
The Washington Post reports that one of its employees witnessed the incident.
A Washington Post employee in the area at the time of the shooting witnessed security company helicopters firing into the streets near Nisoor Square in Mansour. Witnesses said they saw dead and wounded people on the pavement.
Blackwater often uses light helicopters with riflemen at the windows to provide cover to ground-based convoys.
The Associated Press reports that witnesses said the convoy definitely came under attack.
"We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby. One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately," said Hussein Abdul-Abbas, who owns a mobile phone store in the area.
The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented — as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Baghdad.
Blog reactions to the incident, so far, have roughly broken down along left-right lines, with right-leaning blogs viewing groups like Blackwater as patriots doing difficult jobs, and left-leaning ones seeing the groups as dangerous and financially predatory.