(AFP) – Oct 8, 2007
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq said on Monday it was determined to rein in private security contractors, a day after accusing guards from the US company Blackwater of deliberately gunning down civilians in a Baghdad square.
An Iraqi government report released on Sunday said 17 people died in the unprovoked shooting and 22 were wounded.
"We have set strict mechanisms to control the behaviour of the security companies and their conduct in the streets," interior ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf told a news conference in Baghdad.
Iraq's government on Sunday vowed to punish US-based Blackwater after the inquiry found that its guards were not provoked when they opened fire on civilians on September 16 in Baghdad in Nisoor Square.
"The investigation committee appointed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki... has finished its inquiry and has found that there was no evidence that the convoy of Blackwater came under fire directly or indirectly," a government statement said, quoting the findings of the probe.
"It was not touched even by a stone," it added.
"Employees of the company violated the rules governing use of force by security companies. They have committed a deliberate crime and should be punished under the law."
The Iraqi government would now take "judicial measures to punish the company," the statement said.
Blackwater, one of the biggest security firms working in Iraq with around 1,000 staff, is employed to protect US government personnel in the country. It maintains its men were legitimately responding to an ambush while escorting a US State Department convoy.
The US embassy was tight-lipped on whether those involved in the killings would be handed over for prosecution in a case that has thrown the spotlight on the murky world of private security operators in Iraq.
"This and other matters will be discussed by the joint commission as they proceed with their work, (so it is) best not to prejudge the outcome of their discussions at this point," embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told AFP, referring to a joint Iraq-US inquiry into the shootings.
Khalaf said a new law to control the operations of private security companies in Iraq had already been drafted and would go before parliament imminently.
"The bill is being studied by the shura (consultative council) and will soon be presented to parliament for ratification," Khalaf said.
Nantongo said that the Iraqi government's report on Blackwater had been debated during the first meeting of the joint commission in Baghdad on Sunday.
"The commission discussed the status of the Iraqi and US investigations," she said.
The commission is looking at the September 16 shooting involving Blackwater as well as at the wider business of private security contractors in Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's envoy, ambassador Patrick Kennedy, is conducting a separate, overall review of how the State Department conducts its protective security detail operations in Iraq.
Nantongo said that another two members of Kennedy's team were expected in Iraq this week but it was not clear when they would complete their task.
"It is still too early to talk about timelines," she said.
Based on Kennedy's initial findings, Rice on Friday tightened control of Blackwater's operations in Iraq, ordering security agents from the State Department to accompany every convoy.
The State Department said last week that it had ceded the lead role in the investigation into Blackwater, which is accused of involvement in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq, to the FBI.
Nantongo said a team of FBI investigators had arrived in Baghdad last Thursday and was involved in the investigations.
"I would hate to speak for the FBI in that regard in terms of what their movements are and how many people they have or won't have or will have," she said at a later news conference.
"They arrived on Thursday and they are taking the lead in the investigation. The pace of how they conduct their investigations is a matter for the Iraqi authorities."
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