Friday, September 21, 2007

Blackwater resumes operations in Iraq; House Oversight Committee seeks testimony from Blackwater head

Above: Blackwater 'security contractors' over Baghdad. Thursday's shooting enraged many Iraqis, in part because they feel powerless to bring the company to account.

Blackwater working again in Iraq

The US security firm Blackwater has resumed limited operations in the Iraqi capital Baghdad four days after a deadly shootout involving the company...

It had been ordered by the Iraqi government too halt operations while a joint US-Iraqi inquiry was held.

A US embassy spokeswoman said the decision to allow Blackwater to resume work had been taken in consultation with the Iraqi government.

The spokeswoman, Mirembe Nantongo, said Blackwater operations would be limited to essential missions only outside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

Read the rest at BBC News

Blackwater security firm resumes Baghdad work

As Blackwater guards returned to the streets of Baghdad after a three-day suspension, the Iraqi interior ministry said it planned to end immunity from prosecution for security contractors.

The interior ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf said the ministry had drafted legislation giving it tighter control over contractors and calling for "severe punishment for those who fail to adhere to the ... guidelines".

Iraq has said it will review the status of all security firms after what it called a flagrant assault by Blackwater contractors in which at least eight people were killed while the firm was escorting a US embassy convoy through Baghdad on Sunday...The US embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the decision to allow Blackwater to guard some "mission essential" trips was made after talking to Iraqi authorities.

"There isn't a lot of movement in general ... But it is likely Blackwater will support some of them," she told the Reuters news agency.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Source: Blackwater back to normal in Iraq on Saturday

All Blackwater USA operations in Iraq will be back to normal on Saturday, a highly placed industry source told CNN on Friday.

Blackwater has provided protection for U.S. diplomats in the war-torn country, and the United States has insisted that it relies on private contractors to protect its civilians there...

An embassy official told CNN that reports that the company's operations had resumed Friday outside the Green Zone were probably true.

Sunday's shooting has created tension between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed regret about the incident in a phone call to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promised an open and transparent probe into what happened.

Read the rest at CNN

Survivor Recalls Blackwater Shootings

Lawyer Hassan Jabir was stuck in traffic when he heard Blackwater USA security contractors shout "Go, Go, Go." Moments later bullets pierced his back, he said Thursday from his hospital bed...

"No one fired at them," Jabir said of the Blackwater guards. "No one attacked them but they randomly fired at people. So many people died in the street"...

Jabir, whose left arm and chest were bandaged, said he was driving toward the Ministry of Justice when he found the road clogged with traffic. He saw several armored vehicles with armed guards on the roofs parked ahead of the traffic jam. Three black SUVs were behind them.

"After 20 minutes, the Americans told us to turn back," he said. "They shouted 'Go' 'Go' 'Go.'... When we started turning back, the Americans began shooting heavily at us. The traffic policeman was the first person killed."

The shooting set off a panic, Jabir said, with men, women and children diving from their vehicles, trying desperately to crawl to safety.

"But many of them were killed," he said. "I saw a 10-year-old boy jump in fear from one of the minibuses. He was shot in his head. His mother jumped after him and was also killed."

Suddenly, Jabir felt two bullets strike his back — one pierced his left lung and the other lodged in his intestines.

"I kept on driving my car because if I left it, I would die," he said. "Then I was hit with two other bullets, one in my right hand and the second in my right shoulder just under the neck. ... I was rescued by Iraqi special forces" who rushed to the area.

"I swear to God that they were not exposed to any fire," Jabir said of the Blackwater guards. "They are criminals and thirst for blood."

Read the rest at the St. Louis Dispatch

Congress Wants Testimony From Blackwater Boss

The founder and chairman of Blackwater USA, the private security contractor, has been told to appear next month before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a letter today to Blackwater chairman Erik Prince, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the hearing would concentrate on "the mission and performance of Blackwater USA and its affiliated companies in Iraq and Afghanistan"...

"Another question will be whether the specific conduct of your company has advanced or impeded U.S. efforts," he wrote.

Read the rest at ABC News

Text of the Letter from the House Oversight Committee:

Mr. Erik Prince
The Prince Group
1650 Tysons Boulevard, Suite 800
Mclean, VA22l02

Dear Mr. Prince:

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hereby requests your testimony at a hearing on Tuesday, October 212007, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2154, Rayburn House Office Building.

The hearing will focus on the mission and performance of Blackwater USA and its affiliated companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. One question that will be examined is whether the government's heavy reliance on private security contractors is serving U.S. interests in lraq. Another question will be whether the specific conduct of your company has advanced or impeded U.S. Efforts.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. Information for witnesses appearing before the Committee is contained in the enclosed Witness Information Sheet.

If you have any questions, please contact Theodore Chuang or Christopher Davis of the Committee staff at (202)225-5420.


Henry A. Waxman

From the House Oversight Committee

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