Blackwater Worldwide was involved in the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians last year, should be dismissed by the US Government, an advisory panel to the State Department said yesterday. In a report commissioned by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, the panel called for Blackwater’s contract not to be renewed when it expires next year, leaving the decision of what to do with the security firm to President-elect Barack Obama. Dr Rice ordered a review last September of the State Department’s large-scale use of private security firms in Iraq, after the 17 civilians were killed in Baghdad. Last week the US Justice Department said that five guards who had been working for Blackwater and gave themselves up in Utah have been charged with manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons violations.
A sixth guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter — a killing in the heat of the moment with no prior planning — and attempt to commit manslaughter.
The multiple deaths on September 16, 2007, highlighted the huge number of private security guards employed by the State Department to protect diplomats, visiting politicians and Iraqi Government officials in Iraq. On that day the Blackwater guards were escorting State Department officials through central Baghdad when they fired on other civilians after killing the occupants of a car that had approached a blockade. US prosecutors say that the car posed no threat and that the subsequent shootings were unprovoked. The five defendants say that they acted in self-defence.
Between 2005 and September 2007 Blackwater security staff were involved in 195 shooting incidents in Iraq; in 163 of those cases Blackwater personnel fired first.
Patrick Rowan, of the Justice Department, said: “While there were dangers in Baghdad in September 2007, there were also ordinary people going about their lives, performing mundane daily tasks. [This] indictment and guilty plea should serve as a reminder that those who engage in illegal attacks on civilians in times of conflict or peace will be held accountable.” If Blackwater is dropped next year, it is not clear how it will be replaced. The department relies heavily on private security guards. There are an estimated 30,000 in Iraq and Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador in Bagdhad, told Congress last year: “There is simply no way at all that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq.” Blackwater has won more than $1 billion (£650 million) in government contracts under the Bush Administration, a large portion of which has been for work in Iraq. The recommendation does not affect Blackwater contracts outside Iraq but a decision to end the company’s role there will pose proble
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