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Iraq to Support Blackwater Lawsuit in US Courts

BAGHDAD - Iraq will help victims of the 2007 shooting of civilians in Baghdad to file a U.S. lawsuit against employees of security firm Blackwater, an incident that turned a spotlight on the United States' use of private contractors in war zones.

A helicopter belonging to the US private security company Blackwater flies over Baghdad, 2004. Iraq has filed a lawsuit against private security firm Blackwater in a US court and will file another in Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, amid fury over an American court dropping charges against five Blackwater guards. (AFP/File/Nicolas Asfouri) Last week, a U.S. judge threw out charges against five guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle, saying the defendants' constitutional rights had been violated.

Iraq called that decision "unacceptable and unjust" and, as well as supporting a lawsuit brought by Iraqis wounded in the shooting and families of those killed, it will ask the U.S. Justice Department to review the criminal case, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday.

"The government will facilitate a lawsuit from Iraqi citizens to sue the guards and the company in a U.S. court," he said.

The guards from Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe Services, say they shot across a crowded intersection in self-defence after hearing an explosion and gunfire.

But an Iraqi whose young son was killed in the incident said they indiscriminately fired at cars.

The shooting strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and became a symbol for many Iraqis of foreigners' disregard for their lives.

Dabbagh said the court had "rejected the case on form, and not on its merits."

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. That ended with a bilateral agreement that took effect last year.

The five guards were charged in a U.S. federal court with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 of attempting to commit manslaughter and one weapons violation. A sixth Blackwater guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Dabbagh said Iraq was conducting an investigation into whether current or former Blackwater employees were still operating in the country, including with other firms.

He said Iraq did not want them on its soil, but did not say whether they would be expelled.

"We do not want any member of this company, which committed more than one crime in Iraq, to work in Iraq."

In a speech to Iraq's parliament on Sunday, lawmaker Omar al-Jubouri suggested a way the government could retaliate for the decision of the U.S. courts.

"Ask the Iraqi courts to release all the defendants ... sentenced to death for killing Americans in Iraq, as an act of reciprocity with the U.S. judicial system," he said.

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