Wednesday, September 19, 2007


U.S. embassy in Iraq suspends diplomatic convoys across Iraq

(Al Jazeera) - The US embassy in Baghdad has suspended all diplomatic convoys outside the heavily fortified Green Zone and the rest of Iraq. The move comes as the Iraqi government said it would review the status of all private security companies working in the country following a deadly shooting on Sunday involving guards from the US firm Blackwater.
The government announced the investigation on Tuesday, after the interior ministry decided to "halt the licence" of Blackwater, which provides security to US diplomats in Iraq. Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, announced the decision "to review the operations of foreign and local security companies in Iraq". He said: "This came after the flagrant assault conducted by members of the American security company Blackwater against Iraqi citizens."
In a notice sent to Americans in Iraq, the US embassy said it had acted to review the security of its personnel and possible increased threats to those leaving the Green Zone while accompanied by security details after the weekend killing of Iraqi civilians involving Blackwater guards.
"In light of a serious security incident involving a US embassy protective detail in the Mansour District of Baghdad, the embassy has suspended official US government civilian ground movements outside the International Zone [Green Zone] and throughout Iraq," the notice said.
"This suspension is in effect in order to assess mission security and procedures, as well as a possible increased threat to personnel travelling with security details outside the International Zone," said the notice. Blackwater said on Monday that it had received no official notice from Iraq's interior ministry.
The toll from the shooting rose to nine - 10 civilians and one policeman - on Tuesday, according to a local hospital medic.
US officials in Baghdad have yet to clarify the legal status of foreign security contractors in Iraq, including whether they could be liable for prosecution by Iraqi authorities. Riad Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military analysis, told Al Jazeera: "Only the party that brought them [the private security firms] into Iraq can take them out of Iraq - and that is the US."
He said that under their contracts "neither Blackwater nor the other [private security] companies are obliged to obtain a licence from Iraq". Kahwaji said: "The chances are they are going to stay. Because a lot of the foreign companies and contractors that are rebuilding Iraq rely totally on these Western, or US-based, security companies. "They don't have any confidence in the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security services."
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, telephoned Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, on Monday to express regret over the death of innocent civilians. US and Iraqi sources said the shooting erupted after a bomb exploded near a US diplomatic convoy, but a US government incident report said armed men fired on the convoy and Blackwater guards responded. "Blackwater's independent contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack in Baghdad on Sunday," said a statement from the North Carolina company, reported by CNN on its website.
"Blackwater regrets any loss of life, but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life." Nevertheless, Abdul Sattar Ghafour Bairaqdar, a judge from Iraq's highest court, the Supreme Judiciary Council, said Blackwater could face trial. "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," he said.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader of the al-Mahdi Army militia, added his voice to anger over the incident, urged the government to "cancel this company's work, and the rest of the criminal and intelligence companies".

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