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.

VIDEO
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Sport
sport
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Brand Manager, Bermondsey

£32000 - £35000 per annum: Charter Selection: This highly successful organisat...

International Brand Manager, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum, Benefits: Bonus: Charter Selection: This rapidly ex...

English Teacher

£450 - £750 per annum: Randstad Education Leicester: English teacher required ...

Humanities Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education is curren...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents