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Blackwater Faced Bedlam, Embassy Finds

Hussam Hassan inspects his father's car several days after it was heavily damaged in the disputed shooting at Nisoor Square in Baghdad.
Hussam Hassan inspects his father's car several days after it was heavily damaged in the disputed shooting at Nisoor Square in Baghdad. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)

"All the vehicles were shooting. They were shooting in every direction," said a senior Iraqi police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigations. "They used a rocket launcher or grenade launcher to hit the car. They were supported by two helicopters who were shooting from the air."

After about 15 minutes, the guards sped away under cover of the smoke, eyewitnesses said.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi government investigation is expected to examine the incident, along with at least a half-dozen other shooting incidents involving Blackwater.

According to the report, the sequence of events leading up to the shooting began at 11:53 a.m., when a car bomb exploded 25 yards outside of the Izdihar financial compound, just over a mile northwest of the Green Zone. One principal was inside, accompanied by a Blackwater personal security detail identified as Team 4. A Blackwater team normally consists of three or four armored vehicles manned by multiple security contractors armed with assault rifles and pistols.

A Blackwater tactical support team, identified as TST 22, drove to the location to help Team 4 extract the principal. The two teams escorted the official back to the Green Zone "without incident," according to the report. "It is unknown who was the target of the" car bomb.

According to the report, a third Blackwater team, identified as TST 23, was dispatched from the Green Zone to assist after the car bomb detonated. Upon arriving at Nisoor Square, in Baghdad's affluent Mansour neighborhood, the report said, TST 23 was "engaged with small arms fire" from "multiple nearby locations."

The report said TST 23 returned fire and tried to drive out of the ambush site. However, one of the company's tactical armored vehicles, a BearCat, became disabled during the shooting. In the middle of the firefight, according to the report, the other tactical support team, TST 22, was ordered back out of the Green Zone to assist TST 23 in Nisoor Square, identified in the document as Gray 87.

Before TST 22 could arrive, according to the report, TST 23 had towed the BearCat and returned to the Green Zone. TST 22 found itself alone in the congested traffic circle and confronted by an Iraqi quick-reaction force. "Over the next several minutes, additional Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police units arrived and began to encircle TST 22 with vehicles," according to the report. "The Iraqis had large caliber machine guns pointed at TST 22."

The Blackwater team contacted the tactical operations center for the U.S. Embassy's regional security office, which oversees private security movements, according to the report. The report said the embassy's regional security office deployed the embassy's air assets, believed to be Blackwater's armed "Little Bird" helicopters, for "route reconnaissance and additional coverage."

"The U.S. Army QRF" -- quick-reaction force -- "arrived on scene at 12:39 hours and mediated the situation," the report said. "They escorted TST 22 out of the area and successfully back to the [Green Zone] without further incident."

Some U.S. officials have questioned why the Blackwater team decided to evacuate the principal and return to the Green Zone, rather than remaining inside the compound. "It doesn't make sense," said one U.S. official. "Why would they go back out there when they were already safe?"

The report said Blackwater's armored vehicles incurred superficial damage from small-arms fire. Although the report made no mention of civilian casualties, the document added, "The nature of the Bearcat malfunction is under investigation."

Fainaru reported from El Cerrito, Calif., and Raghavan from Baghdad. Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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