Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Al-Sadr demands removal of foreign security companies in Iraq

Security, Politics
(AFP) - Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday demanded the ouster of all "criminal" foreign security companies from Iraq after private contractors gunned down civilians in a Baghdad square. The Iraqi government has already announced it is revoking the licence of US security firm Blackwater following Sunday's shootout in Baghdad's Al-Yarmukh neighbourhood which left eight people dead and wounded 13.
"We say the Iraqi government should cancel the licence of this company and all other criminal companies," Sadr said in a statement issued from his headquarters in the holy city of Najaf. "Most of (Blackwater's) members are criminals and those who have left American jails," the statement said. A top Iraqi judge said Tuesday that Blackwater could be tried in an Iraqi court over the shootout.
"This company is subject to Iraqi law and the crime committed was on Iraqi territory and the Iraqi judiciary is responsible for tackling the case," said Abdul Sattar Ghafour Bairaqdar from Iraq's Supreme Judiciary Council, the country's highest court. The judge said the case against Blackwater could be filed either by the relatives of the victims or by the government.
US and Iraqi sources in Baghdad said Sunday's shooting erupted after a bomb exploded near a US diplomatic convoy, but a US government incident report said armed insurgents fired on the convoy and Blackwater guards responded. "We have heard of the cowardly attack committed by the so-called security company against our people without any justification," said Sadr, who heads the country's most powerful Shiite movement and who is backed by a thousands-strong militia known as the Mahdi Army.
"This has only happened because the occupier brought this company to our country," he added, referring to the US military. "We demand an urgent investigation by the government so that the criminals are punished... We also demand compensation for families of all the dead and wounded." But there was doubt on Tuesday that Baghdad will go ahead with its threat to evict the 1,000 or so Blackwater guards providing personal security for US civilian officials working in Iraq after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attempted to smooth tempers with a diplomatic phone call.
Political analyst Peter Singer, in an article posted on the Brookings Institution website, said the US military in Iraq is stretched thin and the US government's diplomatic security force "has been hollowed out." This means that in the short term, he said, Washington will have to "ignore the Iraqis' wishes and just keep on using Blackwater contractors as before; find another company to step in and quick-fill take on these roles in lieu of the firm; or negotiate with the Iraqis to find terms under which (Blackwater) might continue to carry out the operation."

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