Iraq Determined to Expel Blackwater USA

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The Guardian/UK

Iraq Determined to Expel Blackwater USA

by
Steven R. Hurst

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government remains determined to expel the Blackwater USA security company and is searching for legal remedies to overturn an American-imposed decree that exempts all foreign bodyguards from prosecution under local laws, officials said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government accepted the findings of an Iraqi investigative committee that determined Blackwater guards, without provocation, killed 17 Iraqis last month in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad.

Iraqi investigators declared that Blackwater should be expelled and $8 million should be paid as compensation for each victim.

The officials said the Cabinet decided Tuesday to establish a committee to find ways to repeal a 2004 directive issued by L. Paul Bremer, chief of the former U.S. occupation government in Iraq. The order placed private security companies outside Iraqi law.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The Iraqi probe into the Sept. 16 shooting found that Blackwater personnel guarding a State Department convoy opened fire on Iraqis without reason. Blackwater said its men came under fire first, although no witnesses have been found to corroborate the claim. The guards involved have been isolated and have not been available to comment.

The Iraqi officials said Cabinet ministers again demanded that the U.S. Embassy, Blackwater's biggest client in Iraq, expel the company. U.S. officials have said any action must await completion of an American investigation.

In Washington, the State Department's security chief, Richard Griffin, announced his resignation a day after a review panel created by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq.

Rice's review panel found serious lapses in the department's oversight of such guards, who are employed by Griffin's bureau.

Neither Griffin nor spokesmen for the department's Diplomatic Security Bureau could be reached for immediate comment.

In a Shiite district southeast o at least nine people, police and hospital officials said.

The blasts, which occurred about 30 yards apart in Jisr Diyala, targeted government employees, construction workers and vendors waiting for minibuses to take them into the capital, officials said. Vendors were selling pastries, juice and tea to the workers.

Three policemen, women and children were among the nine killed and 23 wounded, officials said.

Mohammed Nuaman, a 36-year-old store owner who was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder, said rescue efforts were complicated by a damaged bridge. The bridge, which spans the Diyala River to connect the area with Baghdad proper, was bombed in May and remains under repair.

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``I heard a big explosion at the bus station area and another bomb went off about 30 seconds later, as I was heading to the area,'' Nuamen said.

``Locals rushed to the area and carried some wounded by their cars to the nearby Zafaraniyah hospital before the ambulances and police arrived about 15 minutes later,'' he said.

Hours later, mortar shells rained onto a neighborhood in Hibhib, 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least five civilians and wounding 17, police said.

Hibhib, a Sunni town in Diyala province, was the area where al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike last year.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said the mortar rounds were launched from the nearby district of Hidaid and were targeting Sunnis who had turned against al-Qaida.

Despite bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Iraqi civilian death count is projected to decline for the second consecutive month. At the current pace, October would have a death count of fewer than 900, down from 1,023 in September and 1,956 in August, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

The AP tally is compiled from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths are not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

U.S. and Iraqi military commanders said a security crackdown had succeeded in sharply reducing the violence.

Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the Iraqi in charge of the operation, said overall terrorist acts in Baghdad had decreased by 59 percent and the number of Iraqi casualties by 77 percent since the crackdown began in February. He also said car bombs in the capital were down by 65 percent and the number of people killed in bombings was down by 81 percent.

``All sectors in Baghdad have witnessed a decrease in terrorist activities,'' Qanbar said. ``This has brought life to normal in many parts of Baghdad.''

The American military has reported 30 military deaths in October, down sharply from the month before. Two soldiers were reported killed Wednesday in areas north of Baghdad: one in a land mine explosion during operations in Salahuddin province, and the second in a battle near Beiji, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. second-in-command said attack levels in Baghdad were on a ``steady downward trend'' and were now at the lowest level since January 2006.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said he expected the U.S. military to make steady progress over the next year in turning over large parts of Baghdad to Iraqi forces. ``I think it'll be somewhere between 40 and 50 percent by the end of the year,'' he told reporters.

In another sign of possible political reconciliation, the Shiite vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, endorsed a 25-point reform blueprint offered by his Sunni counterpart, Tariq al-Hashemi. It marked the highest-level Shiite backing for the plan, which includes a blanket pardon for Iraqis who took up arms against the government and the U.S.-led coalition forces in exchange for laying down their arms and joining the political process.

© 2007 The Guardian

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