Contractors Fire on Vehicle in Iraq

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 5:24 PM

BAGHDAD -- A British private security team protecting members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened fire on a speeding vehicle after issuing warning shots Thursday, wounding four Iraqi civilians in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the U.S. military said.

The incident comes on the heels of two other shooting incidents involving private security contractors in Iraq. Blackwater USA guards were involved in a shooting in Baghdad last month that left 17 civilians dead, and contractors working for an Australian-owned firm shot and killed two women in a separate incident in the capital earlier this month.

Thursday's shooting happened when a vehicle approached the security guards working for Erinys Iraq Ltd., a British security company, at high speeds about 15 miles east of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the U.S. military said.

The guards "initiated escalating warning procedures under the rules for the use of force," injuring one of the occupants in the vehicle, the Army Corps of Engineers said. It said the incident was under investigation.

An employee of Erinys' Middle East office in Dubai also said only one civilian was "slightly injured" in the shooting. The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said an Erinys security guard stopped to help the wounded civilian.

A U.S. military spokesman in northern Iraq said later that four people were wounded and evacuated by American troops. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Iraqi officials said three civilians were wounded in the incident. It was not immediately possible to explain the discrepancies in the casualty toll.

An Associated Press photograph showed a white and orange car that appeared to be a taxi with at least six bullet holes in the windshield. Another photograph showed doctors treating a man with a bandaged head and a pool of blood spilling from a table in the emergency room.

Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir, a police spokesman in Kirkuk, located about 180 miles north of Baghdad, and witnesses said the contractors were in black SUVs.

Saman Khalid, a 23-year-old selling black market gasoline on the side of the road, said the SUVs were speeding and men opened fire on the car when it tried to pass them. He said three people in the car, including one woman, "seemed to be in critical condition and bloody."

Erinys has provided security for the Army Corps of Engineers, which employs both civilians and members of the military, for the past four years, the company's employee in Dubai said.

© 2007 The Associated Press