US renews Blackwater's Iraq security contract

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The controversial private security firm Blackwater USA had its contract to protect American diplomats in Baghdad renewed for another year by the State Department.

The new lease of life for the company's activities in Iraq came as the FBI continued to investigate an incident in 2007 in which the company's guards are alleged to have killed 17 Iraqis. According to The New York Times, the Bureau's agents found at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified.

Nonetheless, the US Assistant Secretary of State Gregory Starr told reporters: "I have requested and received approval to have task order six – which Blackwater has to provide personal protective services in Baghdad – renewed ... for one year."

The firm, with around 900 private security guards in Iraq, has also been criticised in the US for its role in a 2004 ambush in Fallujah that left four of its staff dead.

The attack was a turning point for US public opinion on the US presence in Iraq after images of the charred bodies were broadcast internationally. Days later, the US launched a major offensive in Fallujah, leading to one of the bloodiest periods since the 2003 invasion.