Saturday, September 22, 2007

Iraq Claims To Have Video Of Blackwater Shootings

By Cernig

According to the AP, a senior Iraqi official has claimed they have tape of the Blackwater incident.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Saturday with Iraq's prime minister in their first face-to-face talks since a Baghdad shootout involving guards from a U.S. company protecting American diplomats.

Rice and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were among numerous top diplomats and officials from Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, which the United States accuses of destabilizing Iraq, gathering at the United Nations with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to discuss Iraq's future.

Neither spoke to reporters as they entered the room for the meeting, which came as a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad said Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows employees of Blackwater USA opening fire against civilians without provocation on Sept. 16.

At the same time, Iraq's Interior Ministry said it had expanded its investigation of the shooting to include six other incidents involving Blackwater guards over the past seven months .

The developments added to rising U.S.-Iraqi tensions, which shot up following last Sunday's shooting that killed at least 11 Iraqis, including civilians.

...The security review that Rice announced will examine the rules of engagement followed by security contractors as well as rules and regulations that govern their operations. That includes the jurisdiction in which contractors should be covered and the immunity from prosecution by Iraqi and U.S. military courts that they now enjoy.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi commission is also beginning to look at widely conflicting accounts of last weekend's incident; the first session was planned for Sunday.

American witnesses have said the security guards were responding to an attack. Many Iraqi witnesses have told investigators the shooting was unprovoked. The prime minister has called the incident a ``crime'' and his government has suggested that the U.S. no longer use Blackwater for security.

But the State Department relies heavily on private contractors to protect U.S. diplomats and other civilian U.S. government personnel in Iraq because it lacks the means to do so itself.

Blackwater has said its guards, protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy, were returning fire from insurgents and acted appropriately.

Rice spoke to al-Maliki by telephone Monday to express regret for the deaths. At that time, she asked that he hold off from any action against Blackwater until all the facts were known.

Iraqi officials, who initially said they would ban the company, have shown no sign of easing their criticism. The killings have outraged many Iraqis, who long have resented the presence of armed Western security contractors, considering them an arrogant mercenary force that abuses Iraqis in their own country.

Iraq's Interior Ministry now is looking at other incidents involving Blackwater employees.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the Moyock, N.C.-based company has been implicated in six other incidents over the past seven months, including a Feb. 7 shooting outside Iraqi state television in Baghdad in which three building guards were fatally shot
Add this to the arms smuggling and dealing allegations and it begins to look like Bush's pal and Romney's counterterrorism and national security adviser, Cofer Black of Blackwater, may be in a bit of trouble.

Update More from the AP:
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Iraqi authorities had completed an investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad and concluded that Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths.

He told The Associated Press that the conclusion was based on witness statements as well as videotape shot by cameras at the nearby headquarters of the national police command. He said eight people were killed at the scene and three of the 15 wounded died in hospitals.

Blackwater, which provides most of the security for U.S. diplomats and civilian officials in Iraq, has insisted that its guards came under fire from armed insurgents and shot back only to defend themselves.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Saturday that she knew nothing about the videotape and was contractually prohibited from discussing details of the shooting.

Khalaf also said the ministry was looking into six other fatal shootings involving the Moyock, N.C.-based company in which 10 Iraqis were killed and 15 wounded. Among the shootings was one Feb. 7 outside Iraqi state television in Baghdad that killed three building guards.

"These six cases will support the case against Blackwater, because they show that it has a criminal record," Khalaf said.

Khalaf said the report was "sent to the judiciary" although he would not specify whether that amounted to filing of criminal charges. Under Iraqi law, an investigating judge reviews criminal complaints and decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.
Apparently, three of the Blackwater guards are Iraqi and so may be prosecuted outwith the blanket pre-emptive amnesty for US contractors issued as one of the last acts of Paul Bremer, Bush's viceroy for Iraq during the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Maliki is expected to raise the entire issue with Dubya when they speak in new York on Monday and is also expected to press for amendments to Bremer's 2004 directive.

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