Guards Kill Two Women In Iraq

The Oldsmobile carrying four friends from a Christian church in Baghdad was hit by at least 35 rounds.
The Oldsmobile carrying four friends from a Christian church in Baghdad was hit by at least 35 rounds. (By Joshua Partlow -- The Washington Post)
By Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 -- Private security guards from an Australian-run firm opened fire on a white sedan in downtown Baghdad on Tuesday afternoon, killing two Iraqi Christian women who were driving home from work.

The killings came at a time of unprecedented scrutiny into the behavior of Western private security guards, seen by many Iraqis as reckless mercenaries with little regard for Iraqi life. In an incident last month involving Blackwater USA, guards killed as many as 17 people in what Iraqi and some U.S. officials have described as unprovoked murder.

Tuesday's shooting involved Unity Resources Group, a Dubai-based company founded by an Australian and registered in Singapore. The firm was employed by RTI International, a nonprofit organization that does governance work in Iraq on a contract for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to David Snider, a USAID spokesman in Washington.

The two Iraqi women were shot as they came up behind a convoy of the firm's sport-utility vehicles, and their deaths seemed certain to heighten tensions between the Iraqi government and the thousands of private security guards operating in Iraq.

"They used excessive force against civilians. Two ladies have been killed," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. "They are facing a high level of threat, but this does not entitle them not to be subjected to justice, law and accountability."

Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said Unity Resources was registered with the ministry and reported the shooting afterward. "They have admitted what they have done," said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief Interior Ministry spokesman. "They have apologized and said they will do whatever the Interior Ministry asks them to do."

Both the company and the Interior Ministry have launched investigations into the incident.

The violence broke out in the early afternoon, when four SUVs belonging to Unity were heading east along a six-lane divided thoroughfare in Karrada, one of central Baghdad's most popular shopping districts. The white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, carrying four people -- including at least three women -- drove toward the convoy from behind, witnesses said.

Iraqi police investigating the incident said the gunner in the last vehicle threw open a door and tossed what looked like a flare, then fired at least 19 rounds into the Oldsmobile.

According to Unity's chief operating officer, Michael Priddin, the women drove up quickly and "failed to stop despite escalation of warnings" including "hand signals and a signal flare."

"Finally shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped in close vicinity to the security team," Priddin said in a telephone interview. "We deeply regret the firing of shots."

Iraqi police and witnesses at the scene gave differing accounts. Some said the Oldsmobile kept driving toward the convoy while others said it had stopped a safe distance away. They agreed that the car posed no threat to the security guards.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company