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Iraq row grounds US diplomats
by BBC (reposted)
Wednesday Sep 19th, 2007 7:12 AM
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 : The US suspends all road journeys by its diplomats in Iraq outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
This follows an incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians died when security guards from the US firm Blackwater opened fire in a busy Baghdad square.

Blackwater, which says its guards acted only in self-defence, has a contract to guard all US State Department employees in Iraq.

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has called on the US authorities to replace the firm.

"This crime has generated a lot of hatred in the government and the people against Blackwater," Mr Maliki said, the AFP news agency reported.

US embassy in Baghdad

"For their own interests, the Americans should hire a new company to protect their people so they can move freely."

Mr Maliki again disputed Blackwater's account of the incident. He said he would not tolerate the "killing of our citizens in cold blood".

The prime minister said the Sunday's shooting was "the seventh of its kind" involving Blackwater.

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Today, the United States “suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials throughout Iraq, except in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.”

The move comes days after Blackwater USA was “allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade.” From the State Department’s notice:

In light of a serious security incident involving a U.S. embassy protective detail in the Mansour District of Baghdad, the embassy has suspended official U.S. government civilian ground movements outside the International Zone (IZ) and throughout Iraq. […]

This suspension is in effect in order to assess mission security and procedures, as well as a possible increased threat to personnel traveling with security details outside the International Zone.

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Wednesday Sep 19th, 2007 7:22 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Amid mounting Iraqi anger over a deadly weekend shooting by U.S. security contractors, the United States on Tuesday ordered its diplomats and other civilian officials not to leave Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, except by helicopter.

The order follows the Sunday shooting that involved Blackwater USA, one of the companies that protects U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

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Wednesday Sep 19th, 2007 7:24 AM
The Iraqi Government has announced it will review the status of all foreign contractors in the country in response to the shooting of 11 Iraqi civilians by American private security firm Blackwater.

The company has contracts worth tens of millions of dollars in Iraq and the Australian Government has confirmed today that it has used the services of Blackwater as part of the Australian deployment.

While the company is defending its actions, analysts says the escalation in tensions over the role of Blackwater and other Western security companies was inevitable.

Exactly what led to the deaths of 11 people in a Baghdad suburb on Sunday is disputed.

In one version of events Blackwater contractors came under hostile fire from insurgents.

In another the contractors fired randomly on civilians following a car bomb in the vicinity.

That story is backed by a man who is now being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds.

"The Americans rocked off the road, they shouted 'Go!' in English," he said.

"I turned my car around with other cars, and they started to shoot us from behind. They shot at me 12 times; luckily only four bullets hit me."

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Wednesday Sep 19th, 2007 7:24 AM
By the tragic killing of eight Iraqis during a shootout around a U.S. Embassy convoy, Blackwater USA, the private contractor that protects U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has created a huge legal, diplomatic and political mess. It was, however, a predictable mess. The Iraqis have grown more and more frustrated by what they see as the impunity with which private contractors have harmed civilians. And the Americans have done too little to regulate and control the contractors, who likely now outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq.

The accusation that the Blackwater security guards mistakenly opened fire on Iraqi civilians is devastating. But no matter what misdeeds Blackwater personnel may have committed in the past, the guards must be considered innocent unless proved guilty in a court of law. According to the State Department, the contractors operate under the same rules of engagement as the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel. These rules are more defensive and circumscribed than those that govern U.S. military operations in Iraq, but they still permit the use of deadly force. It is possible that the Blackwater personnel erred, yet still acted legally within rules of engagement that are in need of an overhaul.

Either way, the United States had best do everything possible to avoid the appearance of "victor's justice," lest it further embitter an Iraqi population already chafing under a heavy foreign military presence. As of Tuesday, the Americans and the Iraqis were conducting separate investigations, a first giant step in the wrong direction toward sorting out this tragedy. If the two investigations produce two different sets of facts, justice will undoubtedly fall to politics, leaving both the U.S. and the Iraqi public dubious about the fairness of the outcome. A joint U.S.-Iraq investigation would test a strained relationship, given that official U.S. reports have concluded that much of the Iraqi police force is corrupt, sectarian or incompetent. But it would be far better than competing inquiries.

Iraqis also resent one of the legacies of the U.S. occupation -- Order No. 17, which was signed in 2003 by Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer III and exempts U.S. security contractors from prosecution in Iraq. That order can be superseded at any time by legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament. Washington would be wise to tell Baghdad that it would accept such legislation, and it should make equally clear that if a joint investigation concluded that Blackwater guards violated Iraqi law, it would permit them to go on trial in Iraq.