By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 8, 2007
BAGHDAD, Oct. 7 -- An Iraqi government investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater USA has concluded that the security firm's guards fired without provocation into a Baghdad square, killing 17 and injuring 27, a government spokesman said Sunday.
The Blackwater convoy that entered Nisoor Square, in response to a bomb attack near a State Department convoy a mile away, was not attacked, "not even by a stone," Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman, said in a statement.
The employees of the North Carolina-based company, he said, committed "an intentional murder that needed to be called to account according to the law." The casualty toll he gave was higher than the previous official tally of 14 dead and 18 injured based on hospital records.
The Iraqi government's inquiry echoed similar findings by the Interior Ministry as well as U.S. military reports from the scene. Blackwater insists that its guards were ambushed and that Iraqi policemen and civilians shot at their vehicles.
The announcement came as a joint commission composed of Iraqi and U.S. officials met for the first time to devise a blueprint for improving the operations and accountability of private security contractors in Iraq.
The goal of the commission -- headed by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim and the U.S. Embassy's deputy chief of mission, Patricia A. Butenis -- is to ensure that such contractors "do not endanger public safety," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. military commander here, Gen. David H. Petraeus, ratcheted up his accusations that Iran was fomenting violence in Iraq. He asserted that the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, was a member of the al-Quds Force of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Reuters news agency reported. U.S. commanders have accused al-Quds of funneling roadside bombs and other weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq.
When asked whether the Iranian government was responsible for killing American soldiers, Petraeus told a small group of reporters: "They are responsible for providing the weapons, the training, the funding and in some cases the direction for operations that have indeed killed U.S. soldiers," according to Reuters.
Petraeus did not provide any evidence to back his allegation. An Iranian Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment Sunday night.
Also Sunday, the U.S. military said it had apprehended three members of an "Iranian-backed" militia believed to have staged the kidnappings of five British contractors in Baghdad on May 29. The contractors are still missing.
Across the capital Sunday, nine people were killed in several car bombings, including one in a park near the provincial council building.
Special correspondents Zaid Sabah, Salih Dehema and Dalya Hassan contributed to this report.