Iraq to review legal status of private security companies

By Kim Sengupta

The Iraqi government announced yesterday that it will review the legal status of all private security contractors working in the country in the wake of the banning of the American company Blackwater USA over the killing of civilians.

The death toll from the shooting on Sunday rose to 11, with 13 wounded. Blackwater has refused to apologise and claimed that those shot, who included women and children, were “armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately”. It has also been claimed that as well as shooting at civilians, the Blackwater guards exchanged fire with Iraqi police and soldiers.

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, called the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to offer condolences for the deaths and promised a through investigation into what happened. Blackwater had been contracted to provide security to many US officials in Baghdad, including the ambassador.

The radical Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, said yesterday: “This aggression wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the presence of the occupiers who brought these companies. Cancel this company’s work, and the rest of the criminal and intelligence companies.”

An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said the cabinet “was meeting to review the operations of foreign and local security companies in Iraq”.

Brigadier General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, of the Interior Ministry, said: “Blackwater committed a crime. They carried out a flagrant assault. The judicial system will now take action”.

It remains unclear, however, what legal “action” can be taken. Private military companies were granted immunity from Iraqi prosecution under order number 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mowaffak Rubaie, the country’s national security advisor, said: “This is a golden opportunity for the government of Iraq to radically review the order.”

There was more violence in Baghdad yesterday as four car bombs in Baghdad killed 21 people. Some of the victims were at the morgue waiting to collect the bodies of relations who had died in Sunday’s shooting.