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Who Watches US Security Firms in Iraq?

But Iraqi government representatives also said they probably would not rescind Order No. 17, which was issued more than three years ago by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The order gives American security companies immunity from Iraqi prosecution on issues arising from their contracts.

"We don't want to do so because we don't have the services they are providing for the diplomats and for the American Embassy here in Iraq," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told CNN.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., is one of three private security firms employed by the State Department to protect its personnel in Iraq. The two others, both of which are headquartered in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, are Dyncorp, based in Falls Church, Va., and Triple Canopy of Herndon, Va.

The State Department has provided little information on Sunday's incident, which began after a car bomb attack against an American convoy guarded by Blackwater employees turned into a firefight that left eight Iraqis dead.

The department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security is conducting an investigation with assistance from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The Iraqis are conducting their own inquiry, although it seems unlikely the Iraqi government would revoke Blackwater's license and order the company's 1,000 personnel to leave the country.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the guards acted "lawfully and appropriately" after being "violently attacked by armed insurgents."

In a separate development, a congressional committee is questioning how aggressively the State Department has looked into allegations that Blackwater illegally brought weapons into Iraq.

In a letter to Howard Krongard, the State Department inspector general, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Krongard impeded a Justice Department probe into claims that a "large private security contractor was smuggling weapons into Iraq."

Although the security company was not named in the letter, several senior administration officials confirmed it was Blackwater.

In an e-mailed response to the committee's charges, Krongard said Tuesday he made one of his "best investigators" available for the probe.

Tyrrell declined to comment.

For Democrats in Congress, the Blackwater shooting incident has reinvigorated an effort to pass additional regulations on how security contractors operate.

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© 2007 The Associated Press