(AFP) – Sep 21, 2007
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Despite opposition from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, US security company Blackwater was back on the streets of Baghdad on Friday, four days after being grounded over a fatal shooting incident.
Maliki, meanwhile, was in the firing line over a damning report by the US embassy made public Friday detailing corruption plaguing his government, which called his office's attitude to tackling the problem "openly hostile."
Blackwater guards, whom a furious Maliki wanted replaced after they opened fire in Baghdad killing 10 people, were on Friday protecting US personnel on limited missions, US spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told AFP.
"We have resumed limited movement today. It is very limited and all missions need to be pre-approved," she said.
"The decision was taken by us in consultation with the Iraqi government. All convoys will be protected by PSDs (private security details). Yes, it is Blackwater."
The US embassy ordered all staff confined to the highly protected Green Zone in Baghdad on Tuesday following Sunday's shooting into a crowded square by Blackwater guards escorting a US civilian convoy through the capital.
Iraqis say civilians were killed, while Blackwater insists the convoy came under attack by insurgents.
Maliki demanded that Blackwater be replaced for the security duties. The firm provides guards for US officials and civilian employees in the war-torn country.
On Friday, the United States announced a review of the rules of engagement for guards protecting US personnel in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters she had ordered a "complete review of how we are conducting our security details ... how we are providing security to our diplomats."
"It will be a full and complete review ... including rules of engagement," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a briefing later.
The issue of security firms is expected to be on the agenda when Maliki holds talks in New York next week at the United Nations General Assembly.
Also likely to be discussed is the draft embassy report into Iraqi government graft. Posted on the IraqSlogger.com website, it paints a grim picture of corruption at all levels.
Many departments, it says, are controlled by criminal gangs and militia while Maliki's office has shown an "open hostility" to allowing independent investigators to probe corruption cases.
The 82-page corruption report is marked "sensitive but not classified" and labelled a "working draft."
Nantongo confirmed that it is still only a draft and that there are questions about the reliability of some of the sources.
The Commission of Public Integrity (CPI), which is tasked with rooting out corruption from state institutions, is "a passive rather than a true investigative agency," the report says.
"Though legally empowered to conduct investigations, the combined security situation and the violent character of the criminal elements within the ministries make investigation of corruption too hazardous for all but a tactically robust police force with the support of the Iraqi government.
"Currently this support is lacking," it says, adding that this has allowed the "corruption to be the norm in many ministries."
"(CPI investigators) cannot be trusted to truthfully reveal criminal activity against anyone protected by the violent or powerful," the report says.
The interior ministry is seen by Iraqis as untouchable while corruption investigations in the defence ministry are judged to be ineffectual, it says.
"Several ministries are so controlled by criminal gangs or militias as to be impossible to operate (in the absence of) a tactical force protecting the investigator."
The White House said Friday that Maliki was "working hard" to fight corruption but declined to say whether he had been "adequately successful."
"We generally feel, in the administration, that they are trying to battle corruption," said spokesman Tony Fratto, who added that some corruption was to be expected in Iraq which lacks basic institutional safeguards against it.
Bush and Maliki will meet on Tuesday, the White House said.
In other developments, police said on Friday that unidentified gunmen had killed an Iraqi radio journalist in Mosul in the second such attack in Iraq's main northern city this month.
US forces also said they used a photograph to identify an Iranian they arrested in northern Iraq as a wanted bomb smuggler, amid claims by Iran the detainee is a businessman.
The Iranian was arrested on Thursday at a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, the northern city that is part of the autonomous Kurdish region.
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