RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
News out of Baghdad this morning. Iraq's government will bar the military contractor Blackwater Worldwide from providing security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq. For years Blackwater was accused of using excessive force. The firm outraged Iraqis in 2007 when its guards opened fire in traffic and allegedly killed at least 14 unarmed civilians. Several of those Blackwater guards are now awaiting trial. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Baghdad. And Lulu, what did the Iraqis say about why they're making Blackwater leave?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, on January 1, the new security agreement went into effect, which effectively puts all private security contractors under the jurisdiction of the government of Iraq. For the past five years, they've operated with complete immunity here. Blackwater in particular has been a target of the government of Iraq. It's acquired a reputation here for being heavy handed. And of course, as you mentioned, there was that infamous incident in 2007.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, told us that Blackwater's license to operate here has been suspended because of that particular incident and others. He said there were - that Blackwater was no longer welcome in this country. Now, it's not clear how long the Iraqis are going to give the U.S. Embassy to find another security provider. We have heard that they are giving them about six months.
MONTAGNE: If not Blackwater, who is going to protect U.S. diplomats?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Renee, there are about 70 to 80 private security firms here that operate in Iraq. The State Department alone works with three private security companies. They work with Triple Canopy, they work with Dime Corp, and they work with Blackwater. Other U.S. agencies have their own contracts with different security companies. So ostensibly that contract could be filled with another provider who already works here. They could choose to use the U.S. military. That of course carries its own attendant problems. Basically in a period where the U.S. will be drawing down, they'd have to be pulling soldiers away from stabilization missions to act as protection, so that might not be the best use of the U.S. military here.
But I think at this point what we're hearing is that all options are on the table. They're trying to figure it out. The key question is time. And if they are given six months, that might be enough time obviously to fill the role of Blackwater. But it's a very difficult process, as you can imagine - personnel, logistics, taking over such a large contract as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad because of course, as we all know, the U.S. Embassy here is the biggest U.S. Embassy in the world.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking from Baghdad. Thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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