bye bye blackwater

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6998788.stm

Iraq shootout firm loses licence

Blackwater security personnel on board a helicopter in Baghdad (2005)

As many as 20,000 private security contractors are working in Iraq

Iraq has cancelled the licence of the private security firm, Blackwater USA, after it was involved in a gunfight in which at least eight civilians died. The Iraqi interior ministry said the contractor, based in North Carolina, was now banned from operating in Iraq.

The Blackwater workers, who were contracted by the US state department, apparently opened fire after coming under attack in Baghdad on Sunday.

Thousands of private security guards are employed in lawless Iraq.

They are often heavily armed, but critics say some are not properly trained and are not accountable except to their employers.

The interior ministry’s director of operations, Maj Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf, said authorities would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force.

“We have opened a criminal investigation against the group who committed the crime,” he told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

All Blackwater personnel have been told to leave Iraq immediately, with the exception of the men involved in the incident on Sunday.

They will have to remain the country and stand trial, the ministry said.

US investigation

The convoy carrying officials from the US state department came under attack at about 1230 local time on Sunday as it passed through Nisoor Square in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour.

The Blackwater security guards accompanying the convoy returned fire, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, Iraqi officials said.

Most of the dead and wounded were bystanders, the officials added. One of those killed was a policeman.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad later confirmed its security vehicles had been involved in the gunfight.

“They received small arms fire. One of the vehicles was disabled in the shooting and had to be towed from the scene,” he said.

“The incident is being investigated by department of state diplomatic security service law enforcement officials in co-operation with the government of Iraq and multinational forces.”

Blackwater has not yet commented on the incident

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