BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq on Monday said it had withdrawn the license of a U.S. security company and sued employees involved in a Baghdad shooting in which 11 people were killed.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said guards working for Blackwater, one of Iraq’s largest foreign security contractors, opened fire after mortar shells landed near their home on Sunday. convoy in Mansour district, west of Baghdad.
“Luckily, the company was there. They opened fire at random on citizens, ”said the brigadier. General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said. Eleven people were killed, including a policeman, and 13 people were injured, he said.
“We have withdrawn his license,” Khalaf said, adding that the ministry was investigating the incident and “would hand over those who committed this act to court.”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and apologized for the shooting and they agreed to conduct a “fair and transparent investigation,” Maliki’s office said.
“She expressed her personal apology and the apology of the United States government. She confirmed that the United States will take immediate action to prevent such actions from happening again, ”said a statement from Maliki’s office.
It was not clear whether the Iraqi government would still pursue its decision to withdraw Blackwater’s license.
A spokesperson for the US embassy said the shooting took place after a car bomb exploded while US diplomats were nearby.
“The car bomb was near a place where members of the State Department were meeting. This is why Blackwater responded to the incident, ”said spokesman Johann Schmonsees.
The embassy declined to confirm that Blackwater’s license had been revoked.
Late Monday, Blackwater said there had been no official Home Office action regarding the revocation of his license.
Blackwater, who employs hundreds of foreign contractors in Iraq and is responsible for the security of the US embassy, said his guards acted “legally and appropriately” in response to a hostile attack.
“Blackwater regrets any loss of life but this convoy has been violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people have done their job to defend human life,” spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said in an email. . She said Blackwater would cooperate with any investigation.
The chairman of the US House of Representatives oversight committee Henry Waxman has said he will hold hearings into the shooting. “The Blackwater controversy is an unfortunate demonstration of the dangers of over-reliance on private security contractors,” Waxman said.
Blackwater’s distinctive little black helicopters fly in the skies over Baghdad, and its armed vehicles follow convoys of senior officials through the city streets.
Four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah in 2004. Insurgents then burned their bodies and hung the charred remains from a bridge, prompting a US military assault on the Iraqi city.
Maliki condemned Sunday’s shooting and vowed to punish the perpetrators and their employers.
“We will work to punish and stop the work of the security company that committed this criminal act,” he told state television.
The U.S. Embassy said it was seeking clarification on the legal status of security contractors and whether Blackwater employees could be prosecuted in Iraq.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said foreign entrepreneurs “must respect Iraqi laws and the right of Iraqis to independence on their lands”.
“These cases have happened more than once and we cannot keep silent about them,” he told Arabiya TV.
Tens of thousands of private security contractors, many of whom are American and European, have worked in Iraq since the United States-led invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003. Many Iraqis believe they are operating outside of Iraq. the law with little accountability to the Iraqi government or the United States. armed forces.
Khalaf did not specify how many contractors were involved in the shooting. He said the commission of inquiry visited the scene and spoke to witnesses and would also visit the company’s premises in Baghdad.
Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad, Arshad Mohammed in Washington