State Dept. Convoy Attacked in Baghdad, Sparking a Shootout

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 17, 2007

BAGHDAD, Sept. 17 -- A U.S. State Department motorcade came under attack in Baghdad on Sunday, prompting security contractors guarding the convoy to open fire in the streets. At least nine civilians were killed, according to Iraqi officials.

The shootout occurred in the downtown neighborhood of Mansour at midday after an explosion detonated near the convoy, police said. In response, the security contractors "escalated the force to defend themselves," a U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said.

Iraqi officials alleged that the response by the security company, which was not named, involved excessive force and killed innocent civilians. The Iraqi government will investigate the incident and "probably will withdraw the authority for this security company in Baghdad," said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

"The security company contractors opened fire randomly on the civilians," he said. "We consider this act a crime."

Early Monday, Iraqi state television reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had condemned the "criminal operation" in Mansour and said he would "punish" the private security company and shut down its operations.

A Washington Post employee in the area at the time of the shooting witnessed security company helicopters firing into the streets near Nisoor Square in Mansour. Witnesses said they saw dead and wounded people on the pavement.

The U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incident was under investigation and that he could provide no further details.

The incident punctuated a day of violence that left at least 40 people dead across Iraq, police said.

Gunmen believed to be affiliated with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq stormed predominantly Shiite villages in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, burned more than a dozen homes and killed 18 people, said Lt. Mohammed Hokman, of the Diyala Joint Coordination Center.

A suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives in front of a cafe in Tuz Khurmatu, 40 miles south of Kirkuk, Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin of the Kirkuk police said. The blast killed eight people and wounded 22, all of them Shiite Turkmens, he said.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization believed to have been formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, has pledged to increase its operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this past week.

"Ramadan is always a peak period every year. None of us have any reason to believe that won't be the case again this year," Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff to the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview. "Hopefully we've been successful and they don't have the materials they used to have. We've put a dent in a lot of things."

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