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.

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

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain