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Iraq Probe of U.S. Security Firm Grows

In one of the most violent episodes cited by Khalaf, Blackwater guards shot three guards at Iraq's state-run Iraqiya television network on Feb. 7.

"It's videotaped. And it's really very ugly when you look at it," Khalaf said.

Habib al-Sadr, the head of Iraqiya television, said, "Blackwater neither paid any compensation to the victims' families nor offered a letter of apology to them for this horrible, unjustifiable act."

On Sept. 9, Blackwater guards killed five people and wounded 10 near the Baghdad municipality building, Khalaf said, and three days later Blackwater guards severely wounded five people in east Baghdad.

According to the Interior Ministry investigation, Sunday's shootings began around noon, shortly after a bomb exploded about a mile from Nisoor Square in Baghdad's Mansour area. Blackwater guards were escorting a State Department motorcade of at least four vehicles. The convoy entered the square, and the guards quickly took positions to protect their passengers, halting traffic.

One car, carrying a couple and their child, did not stop and was fired upon by the guards, Khalaf said. "The father was shot first, the woman was yelling, and the policeman came to save them. And they continued to shoot at them, and continued shooting till they set fire to the car," he said, referring to the Blackwater guards.

The other victims were in nearby cars or standing close to the gunfire, Khalaf said.

Several witnesses reiterated Khalaf's account. "She was screaming and holding her son in her lap," said a traffic policeman at the scene who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It looked like [a Blackwater guard] used some kind of missile launcher to hit the car."

The policeman and his colleagues entered the crowded intersection but rushed for cover when Blackwater began shooting at them. A second traffic officer said that he ducked behind his guard booth and that Blackwater guards strafed it with bullets, breaking the window.

"They kept shooting for no reason. No one shot at them," the first policeman said.

U.S. officials have maintained that the convoy was fired upon in the square.

Khalaf said the Interior Ministry has drafted legislation that would place strict controls on foreign security firms. Those that commit crimes "will be punished according to Iraqi law," he added.

Hamid Rashia Mualla, a Shiite legislator, predicted that Iraq's parliament would unite behind such legislation. Although security contractors have an important mission, he said, they need to be regulated. "When mistakes happen, there should be some resolution to these mistakes, especially when these mistakes concern innocent people's blood," he said.

Staff writer Steve Fainaru in El Cerrito, Calif., and special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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