Iraq Victims, Witness Recount Blackwater Shooting Last September, 17 Iraqis died in a controversial shooting involving the security firm Blackwater USA. Several Iraqis involved in the incident have sued in U.S. courts. They recall that day in videotaped testimonies, and their accounts differ from Blackwater's.
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Iraq Victims, Witness Recount Blackwater Shooting

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Iraq Victims, Witness Recount Blackwater Shooting

Iraq Victims, Witness Recount Blackwater Shooting

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

There have been hearings and investigations, accusations and denials. The saga of the Blackwater shootings in Baghdad has played out for months.

Well, today, we're going to hear from some Iraqis who were in the square when at least 17 people were killed in that shooting in September. We'll also hear from a man who lost two family members in that incident. All three offer accounts that are extremely critical of Blackwater. These men's stories have been made available exclusively to NPR News.

Dina Temple-Raston has our report.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Ali Kahlaf Salman started working as a traffic cop at Mansoor Square in 2004. He knew a security convoy was heading for his area that day because in Iraq, security convoys are always announced by the thumping blades of helicopters overhead.

Officer Salman found the easiest way to deal with those convoys was simply to clear a path for them, so he started to do just that. It was about noon when four SUVs entered the square and stopped in a semicircle. As soon as they arrived, the Blackwater employees started throwing water bottles at the cars around them.

American lawyers who spoke to Office Salman provided the videotape of his account to NPR. Here he is with an interpreter.

Mr. ALI KAHLAF SALMAN (Chief Traffic Officer): (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1 (Translator): He said the man in the third car started firing his gun, and he fired three to four shots randomly.

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: He was big.

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: …big mustache.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Mustache, mm-hmm.

Unidentified Man #1: Blonde, actually.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Officer Salman originally thought that the security contractors were firing over the traffic. But when he turned toward the line of civilian cars in front of him, he realized he was mistaken. From a small, white sedan in the square, he could hear a woman beginning to wail, my son, my son.

Unidentified Man #1: And while they cannot - (unintelligible)?

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible). He said he went - when he heard the woman crying, he went towards that direction and he tried to help the student who was carrying bread, help him out of the car, but the mother inside was holding tight to her son.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Salman said he tried to signal to the Blackwater guards that someone was hurt.

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: And I was…

TEMPLE-RASTON: You raised both hands.

Unidentified Man #1: He raised his hand to stop the shooting.

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: He said while he was - he raised his hand and asking them not to shoot. This time, the man in the fourth car shot the mother dead.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Salman said the bullets rained in his direction. They hit the traffic light above. They ricochet off the door of the traffic booth. In the white sedan, he could see the driver slumped over the wheel, the woman beside him lay motionless, and the car kept creeping forward. Blackwater opened fire again. Salman mimicked the sound of the guns, boom, boom, boom.

Unidentified Man #1: You saw a machine gun. Okay.

Mr. SALMAN: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: And he said the car start moving by itself, because it was an automatic car, towards the square, and at this moment, they started shooting the car with big machine guns, and the car exploded.

Mr. ABDUL WAHHAB (Computer Technician, Trade Bank of Iraq): I saw the - a white car start burning.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Abdul Wahhab is a computer technician at the Trade Bank of Iraq. He was about 300 feet from the square when the white sedan exploded. He remembered two small helicopters hovering overhead, shooting into the square. He could see flashes from the gun muzzles. Wahhab swung his car around and started weaving through the traffic to get away.

Mr. WAHHAB: I used my horn, the car horn, and shouted to the people, go, go, go, move, move, okay? Suddenly, I use my mirror inside the car, the middle mirror, I saw three cars, the same cars of the white cars, you know, the armor?

Unidentified Man #1: The armored car?

Mr. WAHHAB: Yeah, it's behind me.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In his rearview mirror, he watched the Blackwater SUVs closing in, swallowing the ground between them. He heard heavy thumps on his back windscreen. The Blackwater contractors were throwing water bottles at his car. Then it got worse.

Mr. WAHHAB: So suddenly, there is something stop my car. When I turn around, I saw the big - a big car hit my car from the right side and the window of the front door, okay, it's broken. I feel my hands get broken. I know they are shot me. So I open the door and drop myself in the street because I thought that are - they wants to kill me.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Not far from the square, on Yarmuk or Hospital Street, another man, Dr. Jawad, was waiting for his eldest son, Ahmed, a medical student, and his wife, Mahasin, to pick him up. They never arrived. They were the two people in the white sedan. Dr. Jawad is inconsolable.

Dr. JAWAD: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: I wouldn't let her drive a car alone. So there was -should always be a man…

Dr. JAWAD: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Man #1: …in the car - my son, for example, with her in the car…

Dr. JAWAD: Because of the…

Unidentified Man #1: …because of the situation…

Dr. JAWAD: Insecure(ph).

Unidentified Man #1: Insecure. But I think my plan failed on that day.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Jawad filed a wrongful death suit in the U.S. courts against Blackwater earlier this month.

Susan Burke is representing him and five other families of Iraqis who either died or were wounded in the shooting that day.

Ms. SUSAN BURKE (Plaintiffs' Lawyer): Obviously, from the family members' point of view, no matter what we do, we can't make things right. We can't bring back loved ones, but at least in terms of giving these people an outlet that's nonviolent, that's constructive, the civil action does give them a place to try to do what they can to hold this company accountable for killing their loved ones.

TEMPLE-RASTON: NPR called Blackwater for comment on this story. They provided Blackwater CEO Erik Prince's prepared congressional testimony from October 2nd. This is not the actual version he delivered to lawmakers. When he actually testified, he declined to provide any details about that day, but this statement says the convoy was under fire when it entered the square. It said people wearing Iraqi national police uniforms were shooting at them. The statement said the Blackwater guards and the helicopters above the square never fired their weapons.

For most Americans, what happened that day is about security contractors and how to control them. For Iraqis, like Dr. Jawad and others, the instant cast a pall over America more generally.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you learn who did this later after the incident?

Dr. JAWAD: You mean the security company? What different this makes? They are Americans.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The State Department offered Jawad $10,000 in compensation if he agreed not to file suit; he refused. The Justice Department has convened a grand jury in Washington to look at the case. Sources say they are focused on the actions of just three or four of the Blackwater guards who were there that day. The Justice Department has yet to say what exactly the Blackwater guards will be charged with.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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