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How Blackwater Sniper Fire Felled 3 Iraqi Guards

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has forwarded information about the Feb. 7 incident and five other fatal shootings involving Blackwater to the U.S. Embassy, which never responded, it said.

The Iraqi Media Network sought to sue Blackwater in an Iraqi court, according to Faisal Rahdi, the network's legal adviser. A judge rejected the petition, he said, citing a 2004 law signed by L. Paul Bremer, the administrator for the now-defunct U.S. occupation authority. That law, which the Iraqi government has moved to overturn, granted contractors immunity from the Iraqi legal process.

An internal review of the State Department's handling of private security recently found serious deficiencies in the agency's supervision of contractors, including Blackwater. The State Department's security chief, Richard J. Griffin, was forced to resign last month after the report was released.

The Feb. 7 incident was one of at least 10 fatal shootings involving Blackwater since June 2005, including three that led to confrontations between the security company and the Iraqi government in the months before the pivotal Sept. 16 incident at Nisoor Square.

Blackwater provides security for State Department employees traveling in Iraq. The company has received more than $1 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2001, including $832 million for security services in Iraq over the past two years. Blackwater employs 861 guards in Baghdad, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Iraqi Media Network shootings were particularly sensitive because Blackwater fired from one Iraqi government compound into another. The network is a state-funded corporation modeled after the BBC and launched by the U.S. government. After the March 2003 invasion, the network replaced the state-run television system that once dispensed propaganda for the government of then-President Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Media Network operates several newspapers, radio stations and a flagship TV network, al-Iraqiya.

"What really shocked us is that our colleagues were killed inside their workplace, in a place that was supposed to be secure," said Abbas A. Salim, the network's news director. "The IMN, its main job is to explain democracy to the people and support the new Iraq."

News of the shootings was broadcast on al-Iraqiya, which reaches about 85 percent of Iraq's population.

'Nabras Is Hit!'

On the morning of the incident, a convoy of four armored SUVs pulled up at a traffic circle that separates the Justice Ministry from the back of the Iraqi Media Network's sprawling compound. About 20 Blackwater guards got out of the vehicles, according to witnesses.

"Before they went inside, they asked me what this other building was," said Nadim Salim, a bodyguard at the Justice Ministry. "I told them, 'That's the Iraqiya network.' "

Blackwater snipers set up on the Justice Ministry roof, taking cover behind concrete walls that crown the seven-story building. Blackwater "had full control over the guys at Iraqiya because they were higher than them," Salim said.

Across the circle, Nabras Mohammed Hadi manned his guard position. He sat on a chair on the third-floor balcony of an abandoned building looking out on the Justice Ministry and King Faisal Circle, near the rear gate of the Iraqi Media Network compound. The traffic circle, which features a statue of the king on horseback, connects to Haifa Street, a notoriously dangerous central Baghdad thoroughfare.


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