Published on
the Chicago Tribune

Iraqis Decry Settlements in Blackwater Shootings

Liz Sly

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2007, file photo, Mohammed Hafiz holds a picture of his late 10-year-old son, Ali Mohammed, who was killed when guards employed by security company Blackwater opened fire at Nisoor Square in 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

BAGHDAD - Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater claimed Sunday they were coerced into reaching settlements and demanded the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.

The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of its assets. This would be their last chance to get compensation, the victims said they were told.

Though the company, now known as Xe, has not disclosed the amounts of settlements, media reports say they averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 for an injury and $100,000 for a death.

When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed Dec. 31 by a U.S. judge, the Iraqis concluded they had been duped and that the company was not in the kind of trouble they had been led to believe.

"We signed the papers to accept a settlement because we had psychological pressure and some of us were threatened," Mahdi Abdul Khodr, 45, told reporters Sunday at Iraq's Parliament. He led a delegation including representatives of nine of the victims' families who petitioned Iraqi officials to exert pressure on the U.S. government to nullify the settlements.

Xe confirmed last week it had reached out-of-court settlements in seven lawsuits filed in the September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square, as well as other incidents in which Blackwater guards are alleged to have killed or injured Iraqis. Altogether, the suits covered 45 injured people and the families of 19 slain Iraqis who have all signed deals, according to court documents.

The Nisoor Square shootings were the bloodiest of numerous incidents in which Blackwater contractors are alleged to have fired on civilians, inflaming anti-American sentiments and straining relations between the U.S. and Iraq. At least 14 civilians were killed and more than 20 injured when the guards opened fire on the square.

Fawzia Sharif, 53, whose husband, Ali Khalil, was among those killed on the square, said Sunday at the Parliament that three Iraqi lawyers and one American attorney spent three hours trying to persuade her to accept the settlement.

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