Iraq tells US security company to leave after civilian deaths

The Iraqi government has ordered the American private security contractor Blackwater, which provides protection for US officials in the country, to shut down its operations after its guards were accused of killing 10 civilians and injuring 13 others in Baghdad.

Employees of the company are alleged to have opened fire indiscriminately after a bomb exploded on Sunday in the Mansour district of the city, packed with people shopping for Ramadan.

The Iraqi government's decision, personally endorsed by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the strongest measure taken yet against private security contractors, who have been repeatedly accused of carrying out unprovoked shootings of Iraqi civilians.

Yesterday, in an extraordinary telephone news conference, the US embassy spokeswoman could not answer whether the company was still working for the Americans inside the Green Zone, or what its legal position was along with similar foreign contractors within Iraq.

The shooting started after a car bomb blast killed two soldiers and lasted for more than 20 minutes, with civilians seeking safety in stores and behind cars. Afterwards the Blackwater convoy roared away from the scene, shoving cars out of their way with their armoured four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

Initially, the US embassy said the contractors, who were providing security for State Department officials at a meeting, had reacted after coming under small arms fire. Later, however, it said they had "reacted to the bombing".

The Independent, which was present in Mansour at the time of the bombing and shooting, spoke to Iraqis caught up in the incident who described foreigners dressed in civilian uniforms opening fire without warning from their vehicles at cars and people in the street.

The cancellation of Blackwater's contract to work in Iraq was announced by Jawad al-Bolani, the Minister of Interior. Brigadier General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a ministry spokesman, said: "The security contractors opened fire randomly on civilians. We consider this act a crime. The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday's killing will be referred to Iraqi justice. We have issued an order to cancel Blackwater's licence and the company is prohibited from operating anywhere in Iraq." Mr Maliki said he unreservedly condemned the "criminal operation" in Mansour and that the security company would be "punished" by having its operations shut down. The Iraqi government ordered all Blackwater employees in the country to leave, apart from those involved in the Mansour shooting who were asked to be kept behind for questioning by the police.

The company has an army of 20,000 worldwide and its own private air force. Four of its contractors were lynched in the town of Falluja in March 2004. Its employees have subsequently faced criticisms over killings of Iraqis including the shooting of a bodyguard of the Vice-President Adil Abdul-Mahd by a Blackwater employee who was said to be drunk, and who was subsequently flown out of the country by his employers before being arrested by Iraqi authorities.

However, the company has been praised by the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, and the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the US embassy said: "We take the deaths very seriously indeed. There are many issues to be addressed. We are carrying out our own investigation and we shall co-operate fully with the Iraqi authorities." Asked whether the contract with Blackwater would be reviewed, she said: "This is something we will need to review along with other matters."

Ahmed Ali Rahim, a shopkeeper, who witnessed the Mansour shooting, said: "There have been many such shootings in the past, and no one has ever been punished. This time they just opened fire, I do not know why. There was an explosion near the mosque and everyone became afraid, they were screaming and running. Then we saw these SUVs with foreigners leaning out and firing. I just lay down on the ground until it was over. One young man near me was shot in the leg and he was bleeding."

Muhammed Hussein, whose brother was killed in the shooting, said: "My brother was driving and we saw a black convoy ahead of us. Then I saw my brother suddenly slump in the car. I dragged him out of the car and saw he had been shot in the chest. I tried to hide us both from the firing, but then I realised he was already dead."

Lieutenant Mohammed Khamis, a traffic policeman, heard the bomb go off and saw a building damaged. "It was the National Guard [army] post, people were injured and killed. Then the shooting started and people began to run. The US army came later on and searched some cars. I do not know what happened to the other foreigners in the convoy."

Immune from prosecution?

Private security companies in Iraq have often been accused of being responsible for unprovoked attacks on Iraqis and there is a widely held perception that they are immune from prosecution. In one case the supervisor of a US company said he was "going to kill somebody today" and then shot at Iraqi civilians for amusement, possibly killing one, according to two employees. The company, Triple Canopy, fired the two men who brought an action for unfair dismissal but lost on what was described as " technical grounds". However the jury forewoman accused the company of "poor conduct, lack of standard reporting procedure, bad investigation methods and double standards".

Employees of Aegis Defence Services, based in London and run by the former Scots Guards officer Lt-Col Tim Spicer, left, posted footage on the internet showing company guards firing automatic weapons at civilians. The company later issued a statement saying the shootings were legal within rules of protocol established by the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: NON-CONTENTIOUS (0-2 PQE) - A rare opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness