Tue, Oct 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Iraq wants to hold Blackwater USA to account for killings

AP AND AFP , BAGHDAD

An official Iraqi investigation into a deadly shooting involving Blackwater USA guards raised the number of Iraqis killed to 17 and said the gunfire was not warranted and those involved should face trial, the government said.

The final results showed that convoys from the North Carolina-based security company did not come under direct or indirect fire, before the men shot up a key intersection.

"It was not hit even by a stone," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday.

A US-Iraqi commission also met for the first time on Sunday to review US security operations after the Sept. 16 shootings in which Blackwater guards are accused of opening fire on Iraqi civilians in a main square in Baghdad.

The panel is one of at least three investigations involving Americans.

The Moyock, North Carolina-based security company contends its employees came under fire first.

The incident has caused outrage among Iraqis and calls for the rules governing those protecting US diplomats to be overhauled.

The Iraqi investigative committee, which was ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, put the casualty toll at 17 killed and 23 wounded, giving a higher number than other estimates, and it found that seven vehicles were burned or damaged.

It said the shootings amounted to a deliberate crime and recommended those involved be held legally accountable.

Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi Cabinet would weigh the Iraqi findings with those of the joint commission "and subsequently adopt the legal procedures to hold this company accountable."

The recommendations also would include that the company compensate the victims after the three-member panel led by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi determined that Blackwater guards sprayed western Baghdad's Nisoor Square with gunfire without provocation.

The US embassy was tightlipped yesterday over whether those involved in the Sept. 16 killings would be handed over for prosecution.

"This and other matters will be discussed by the Joint Commission as they proceed with their work, best not to prejudge outcome of their discussions at this point," embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said.

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