(AFP) – Sep 28, 2007
BAGHDAD (AFP) — A US-Iraqi commission to provide oversight of private security contractors in Iraq was still to meet on Friday almost a fortnight after an American firm was accused of killing 10 Iraqis by mistake.
Blackwater USA, which says its men were legitimately responding to an ambush while protecting a US State Department convoy during the September 16 incident in Baghdad, is now facing further charges of wrongdoing from the US Congress.
A Congressional panel in Washington said Blackwater had sent personnel to Fallujah in 2004 without proper support on a mission that culminated in their deaths and sparked a brutal US military assault on the Iraqi city.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report on the embattled firm will put more pressure on Washington not to drag its feet over the issue of contractors, who are increasingly unpopular in Iraq.
But a joint statement from the commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker, said the body -- conceived as a watchdog for the booming security industry in Iraq -- was still to meet.
"The full Iraqi-US joint commission on US government Protective Security Detail (PSD) operations in Iraq is preparing for its first meeting in Baghdad," the statement said.
It confirmed that two separate probes into the actions of security contractors, one ordered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other by the US department of defence, were under way.
The Baghdad government has threatened to try the Blackwater guards under Iraqi law and is preparing legislation to bring the supervision of private contractors under its control.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki initially said Washington should immediately replace Blackwater after the deadly shootout, but his administration later agreed to await the outcome of investigations.
In the Fallujah incident, four Blackwater USA employees were killed by an angry mob which mutilated their bodies and hung them from a bridge on March 31, 2004. The shocking images were broadcast worldwide.
That incident triggered a month-long US assault on Fallujah, a Sunni insurgent stronghold, that left 36 US soldiers, 200 insurgents and 600 Iraqi civilians dead.
The House panel said Blackwater took on the Fallujah mission before its contract had officially started and ignored warnings about the risks of entering a known insurgent stronghold.
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