Iraqi authorities demand that U.S. sever all contracts with Blackwater

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In an official report issued on Monday, Iraqi authorities demanded that the United States sever all contracts with Blackwater USA, the private military security firm hired by the U.S. State Department to protect its diplomats in Baghdad. The report accuses Blackwater employees of deliberately killing 17 civilians in an incident that took place on September 16 in Nisoor square in Baghdad, and demands that Blackwater pay US$8 million in compensation to the families of each of the 17 victims.

Iraq's demands were outlined in an official report issued on Monday in Arabic and then translated by news agencies worldwide. The report says that on September 16, four Blackwater vehicles and two helicopters opened fire without provocation in Nisoor square, following a car bombing near a meeting involving a USAID official under Blackwater protection. The report says that at least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed in Nisoor square, and that two or three more were killed at a nearby intersection.

The U.S. normally makes compensation payments to the families of civilians killed in battle, but at amounts far lower than the $8 million per family demanded in the report. The report said the compensation was high "because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country."

The report asks for the Blackwater employees involved in the incident to be handed over for possible trial in Iraqi courts. Under a law introduced in 2004, private security employees are immune from prosecution in Iraq. However, the report argues that Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq expired in 2006, and thus it is no longer immune from prosecution under the 2004 law.

Although Blackwater has not yet responded to the Iraqi report, it has previously stated that its employees were acting in self-defense in the Nisoor square incident. At a congressional hearing last week, Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince told a congressional hearing that his men had come under fire and "returned fire at threatening targets."