Blackwater faces war crimes inquiry after killings in Iraq

The American firm Blackwater USA has been served notice that it faces investigations for war crimes after 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed in a hail of bullets by its security guards in Baghdad.

The killings last month put the spotlight on the private security firms whose employees are immune from prosecution, unlike professional soldiers who are subject to courts martial. In the second such incident in less than a month, involving the Australian contractor Unity Resources Group this week, two Armenian Christian women were shot dead after their car approached a protected convoy. Their car was riddled with 40 bullets.

Ivana Vuco, the most senior UN human rights officer in Iraq, spoke yesterday about the shootings by private security guards, which have provoked outrage among Iraqis. "For us, it's a human rights issue," she said. "We will monitor the allegations of killings by security contractors and look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed."

An Iraqi who was wounded in the 16 September shooting, and the relatives of three people killed in the attack, filed a court case in Washington yesterday accusing Blackwater of violating American law by committing "extrajudicial killings and war crimes."

Iraq says there are more than 180 mainly US and European security companies in the country, with estimates of the number of American contractors running at 100,000. Many Iraqis see the firms as little more than trigger-happy private armies, and the latest incidents have strained relations between Iraq and the US, which has ordered a full security review.

Iraqi authorities have accused Blackwater of the "deliberate murder" of Iraqi civilians in the shooting in a crowded city square, and are demanding millions of dollars in compensation and the removal of the company from the country within six months. The security firm says its guards returned fire at threatening targets and responded lawfully to a threat against a convoy it was guarding.

Ms Vuco said human rights laws applied equally to contractors and other parties in a conflict. "We will be stressing that in our communications with US authorities. This includes the responsibility to investigate, supervise and prosecute those accused of wrongdoing," she said at the launch in Baghdad of the latest UN human rights report, covering the period from April to June. It described the human rights situation in Iraq as "very grim".

Said Arikat, the UN mission spokesman, urged the Bush administration to hold accountable those involved in indiscriminate shooting; "to apply the rules of engagement and prosecute them". He added: "There cannot be rogue elements that are above the law. Definitely, we will be driving that point home time and again."

In the most recent shooting, on Tuesday, a woman taxi driver, Marany Awanees, and her front-seat passenger were killed. Unity Resources Group said its guards feared a suicide attack and fired only after issuing several warnings. The guards were protecting financial and policy experts working under contract for the US Agency for International Development.

Private security firms benefit from immunity under a 2004 law promulgated by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships