By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
BAGHDAD, Oct. 30 -- The Iraqi cabinet approved draft legislation Tuesday that would repeal a law granting immunity to foreign security firms working in Iraq.
The draft, which still requires the approval of parliament, is part of the Iraqi government's response to a shooting last month involving guards from Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based private security firm, that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and 27 wounded.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said the cabinet unanimously approved the draft. Several important pieces of legislation have been stalled in parliament for months, but Dabbagh said he was certain legislators would approve a tough law on foreign security guards.
"There has been a lot of anger because of this Blackwater incident," he said. "There was a bit of a sense of urgency."
The measure would repeal a law known as Order 17 that was issued by L. Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. occupation in Iraq until June 2004. The move by the Iraqi cabinet follows reports this week that Blackwater guards were granted partial immunity during a State Department investigation into the Sept. 16 incident.
Dabbagh said in an interview that the new law would not apply retroactively, meaning that private security guards could not be prosecuted for crimes committed before the legislation is passed.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also gained a political victory Tuesday when he succeeded in filling cabinet posts that had been left empty after some of the major political blocs departed the government this year.
The appointments of Salih al-Hasnawi as health minister and Ali al-Bahadli as agriculture minister were approved by parliament. Dabbagh said the vote was legal, despite reports from some opposition parties that there was not a sufficient quorum to confirm the appointments.
The political developments came as bloodshed continued to convulse Iraq. At least 32 people were killed in attacks across the country, according to an Interior Ministry official.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday when their patrol was struck by a bomb southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. No details were released.
In Baghdad, the 27-year-old editor of a fledgling weekly newspaper was killed over the weekend, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The group said Shehab Mohammad al-Hiti, editor of the three-week-old Baghdad al-Youm, was found dead Sunday afternoon after he had left home to go to the newspaper's offices.
At least 122 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, making it the deadliest country in the world for reporters, according to the journalism group.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.