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Iraq Bans Security Contractor

The speeding convoys and gun-toting contractors patrolling the streets anger many Iraqis, who say they are unaccountable mercenaries with little respect for Iraqi civilians.

Blackwater in particular has come under intense scrutiny. In May, Blackwater guards were involved in shooting incidents on consecutive days in Baghdad. One of the incidents, which took place in front of the Interior Ministry, led to an armed confrontation between the Blackwater guards and Interior Ministry commandos who converged on the scene.

The tense standoff ended after State Department officials and U.S. troops intervened. The State Department said it planned to investigate but no results of that investigation have been released. A day earlier, a Blackwater team reportedly came under attack, triggering a furious gun battle involving the security guards, U.S. troops and Apache attack helicopters in Baghdad's municipal center.

Before Sunday's shootings, Interior Ministry officials said they had received reports of at least a half-dozen incidents in which Blackwater guards allegedly shot civilians, far more than any other company. But the officials said they were hamstrung by the immunity granted under Order 17.

"I would say that Iraqi officials are no different than other Iraqi citizens: They can't stand the Western security companies which are really aggressive, which would include Blackwater," said a second Western official knowledgeable about the Interior Ministry and who also insisted on anonymity. "Blackwater is particularly egregious, but I guess they've been told to use those procedures by the U.S. Embassy. They're not rogue elements."

U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), have pushed for more scrutiny over security contractors in Iraq. Price has proposed legislation that would make all contractors, whether they work for the State Department or the Defense Department, to be subject to prosecution under U.S. law.

"There is no question that the lack of transparency and accountability for security contractor operations, particularly the lack of legal options for prosecuting egregious misconduct, have significantly damaged our efforts in Iraq and put our troops at greater risk," Price said.

Pincus reported from Washington. Staff writers Steve Fainaru in El Cerrito, Calif., Megan Greenwell and special correspondent Salih Dehema in Baghdad, and staff writers Dana Hedgpeth and Robin Wright and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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