Iraq to Review Contract Security After Shootout

The Iraqi government said Tuesday it would review the status of private security companies as anger over the alleged involvement of Blackwater USA in a fatal shooting of civilians threatened to spread to other firms providing protection for dignitaries and Westerners on Iraq's chaotic streets.

On Sunday, Blackwater employees escorting U.S. State Department officials came under attack, and in the crossfire, at least nine Iraqi civilians were killed and more than a dozen wounded when the security company's employees allegedly opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Mansour in western Baghdad.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly revoked the security company's license and vowed to punish those responsible.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Cabinet held a meeting Tuesday and confirmed that "it is necessary to review the status of local and foreign private security companies working in Iraq according to what is suitable with Iraqi laws."

Al-Dabbagh also said the Cabinet supported the Interior Ministry's decision to withdraw the license of the North Carolina-based security firm, expedite an investigation and ensure all those who attacked civilians were held accountable.

"The company should respect Iraqi laws and the dignity of the citizens," al-Dabbagh said in a statement released by his office.

Meanwhile, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for all contracts of foreign securities firms to be annulled and blamed the government for failing to protect Iraqis, noting the shootings occurred on a busy square filled with Iraqi troops.

"This aggression wouldn't have happened had it not been for the presence of the occupiers who brought these companies," al-Sadr's political committee said in a statement issued by his office in the holy city of Najaf.

Whether the Iraqi government has any power to revoke Blackwater's license is unclear.

Order No. 17, a law issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq before the Iraqis regained sovereignty in June 2004, gave the companies immunity from Iraqi prosecution. And as civilian contractors, Blackwater employees are not subject to U.S. military law.

With fleets of armored vehicles, numerous helicopters — sometimes with visible door gunners — and at least 1,000 security staff, Blackwater is one of the most visible private security companies in Iraq.

It's not the first time actions by Blackwater have come under scrutiny. Iraqi officials say Blackwater is often too aggressive when it is out on the streets of Baghdad and there have been at least three other civilian shooting incidents.

Blackwater said its contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack. A spokeswoman claimed the civilians that Blackwater employees reportedly fired on were actually armed men.

American officials refused to explain the legal authority under which Blackwater operates in Iraq or say whether the company was complying with the order. It was also unclear whether the contractors involved in the shooting were still in Iraq.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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