Iraq Seeking Faster Blackwater Pullout

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; 3:38 PM

BAGHDAD -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pressed U.S. Embassy officials in recent meetings to pull the Blackwater USA security firm out of Iraq even before the six-month deadline he initially set, a top aide to the Iraqi leader said Wednesday.

The aide said the Americans responded that they cannot give al-Maliki an answer until the FBI finishes its inquiry into the incident in which Iraqi officials say Blackwater personnel killed 17 Iraqis.

FBI agents on Saturday began questioning survivors and other witnesses to the Sept. 16 shooting by guards in four Blackwater gun trucks. Iraq's government says they opened fire without provocation; the company says the guards responded to an attack.

The State Department also has teams in Iraq looking into what happened. Patrick Kennedy, the department's top management official, is said to be studying whether the agency should continue using Blackwater to provide security.

Al-Maliki's aide, who spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said an Australian-owned security firm whose employees mistakenly shot and killed two Christian women Oct. 9 does not face eviction from Iraq because it quickly apologized, cooperated with authorities and offered compensation for the deaths.

Iraq's government is demanding $8 million compensation for each of the 17 people reported killed in the Sept. 16 incident involving Blackwater.

The al-Maliki aide said the prime minister's office also is drafting legislation that would cancel Decree 17, a measure issued by the former U.S. occupation government that put private security companies outside Iraqi law.

Continuing tension along the border with Turkey, meanwhile, exposed new sectarian fissures in al-Maliki's government. The Turkish parliament voted Wednesday to authorize a military offensive into the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where Turkish Kurd guerrillas have bases.

Sami al-Askari, a close al-Maliki aide, complained in an interview with the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa that leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region only acknowledge they are part of Iraq when they need the central government to come to their rescue.

"They consider that whatever goes on in their region is a Kurdish affair, but when they face a crisis they remember they belong to the country and are part of the Iraqi government that should defend them," he said.

Al-Askari, who is a Shiite Muslim like the prime minister, also derided Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab and often a harsh critic of al-Maliki, for going to Turkey to try to defuse the crisis without first consulting with Iraq's government.

His criticism of al-Hashemi was echoed by government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, who said the tension on the border was a national security issue that must go through official channels.

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