Blackwater security contractors ordered out of Iraq

Iraq has ordered more than 200 current and former employees of the private security company Blackwater, who still play a role in guarding US diplomats, to leave the country within the next four days.

By , Correspondent

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    In this Feb. 7, 2007 file photo, a helicopter operated by Blackwater, a private security contractor, flies over central Baghdad, Iraq.
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Iraq has ordered more than 200 current and former employees of the private security company Blackwater, who still play a role in guarding US diplomats, to leave the country within the next four days.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told the Associated Press that the order is directed at security contractors who worked for Blackwater in the fall of 2007, when a security detail protecting an American convoy opened fire on a crowded square, killing 17 Iraqi civilians. The company, based in Moyock, N.C., has since rebranded itself as Xe.

The move follows Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s promises to families of the victims that his government would seek justice after a US court, on Dec. 31, 2009, dismissed manslaughter charges against five former Blackwater security guards. It also follows the kidnapping of an Iraqi-American military contractor in Baghdad, who appeared in a video this week by a radical Iranian-backed group calling for the conviction of Blackwater employees.

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Mr. Bolani said the Blackwater personnel were notified three days ago of the order, which gave them a week to leave or have their authorization to remain in the country revoked.

Many former Blackwater employees, who had provided diplomatic security for senior US State Department staff and operated the US Embassy’s helicopter services, have remained in the country under other contracts after the Iraqi government banned Blackwater from operating here in 2007.

US embassy spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment on how the move would affect its operations here. US officials had previously said that movements of diplomats, already severely restricted due to security fears, would be even more curtailed if former Blackwater guards were removed from duty.

Vice President Joe Biden, in a visit to Baghdad in January, expressed personal regret over the 2007 Blackwater shootings. He said the US would appeal the court decision that dismissed manslaughter charges against them. The federal judge said the evidence gathered against the guards was a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights,” because the guards were told they would be fired if they didn't cooperate with State Department debriefings on the incident. The Iraqi government said recently it would file its own suit against the five Blackwater guards.

The 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians damaged US-Iraqi relations and became a symbol of excessive US force and unbridled power by heavily armed military contractors. It also damaged US-Iraqi relations.

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