Thirty-three foreigners and 10 Iraqis – all employees of a private security firm – were arrested in Baghdad on Monday after an Iraqi woman was shot and wounded as their convoy passed by.
The latest incident comes as Iraq is pushing a bill through parliament that would lift the immunity granted to private security contractors by the former US administration in the country.
The Associated Press reports that members of a convoy run by the Almco Group, which is owned by Iraqi nationals, shot the woman as it was moving through the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Karadah.
The U.S. military said that the convoy belonged to Almco Group, an Iraqi-run company that has contracts with U.S.-led forces, but that it was unclear if those detained were operating under the auspices of those contracts or others when the shooting occurred Monday.
"We are steadfastly against any security company that behaves recklessly when it comes to the lives of Iraqis or the violation of Iraqi laws," said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad.
Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Almco, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has contracts with U.S.-led forces to provide food, water and other life support functions to military transition teams, as well as the construction of a justice compound.
But he said it was not yet determined whether those detained were working on those contracts at the time of the incident.
Agence France-Presse reports that none of the detained foreigners were Americans, and said there were indications that many of those arrested were not armed.
There has been mounting controversy over the operations of private security guards in Iraq since a shooting in September in which guards of Blackwater USA gunned down civilians in a Baghdad square.
[US military spokesman Major Winfield] Danielson said initial reports indicated that those detained included 10 Iraqis, 21 Sri Lankans, nine Nepalese, one Indian and two Fijians. They were being held at an Iraqi army camp.
"There are coalition forces staying with the detained individuals," he said.
Thousands of Asian workers are employed in the service industry connected to the vast US military operation in Iraq. It is believed those detained were being escorted by Iraqi security guards at the time of the incident.
This shooting came as US federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to employees of the security firm Blackwater Inc. to testify before a grand jury being convened to look into the killings of 17 Iraqis by employees of the firm in Baghdad in September, The New York Times reports.
The opening of the grand jury inquiry is a significant step in the case because it indicates that prosecutors believe that there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to warrant a formal criminal investigation.
Officials cautioned that the decision to begin a grand jury inquiry did not mean that prosecutors had decided to charge anyone with a crime in what they said was a legally complex case.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing grand jury matters, would not say exactly how many subpoenas had been issued, but they said the subpoenas were mainly to Blackwater employees who were at the scene of the shooting but did not fire their weapons. The prosecutors are also seeking company records compiled at the time of the shooting as well as employee work histories and military service files.
The Blackwater investigation is taking on increasingly political overtones, since the company has strong ties to the Republican Party. Some critics allege the US government contracts it has won were a result of these relationships.
Writing in Slate magazine, Bonnie Goldstein details the links between Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, and the company. His brother Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard was an adviser to Blackwater until he resigned last week. [Editor's note: the original version of this story neglected to mention that Buzzy Krongard had resigned.]
... Cookie, at a House oversight committee hearing to clear up a number of troubling allegations about his performance as inspector general, misremembered a fraternal conversation that had occurred a few weeks earlier and testified emphatically that Buzzy was not affiliated with the State Department's troublesome contractor Blackwater Worldwide.... During a hearing recess, Buzzy, who had been watching his brother's mistaken testimony on C-SPAN, reminded Cookie by phone that he had indeed recently joined a Blackwater advisory board and added that he'd just participated in his first board meeting. Cookie came back to the hearing and quickly corrected his testimony. While insisting that he is not his brother's keeper, Cookie has now recused himself from Blackwater-related oversight.