Page 2 of 3   <       >

Iraqis Detail Shooting by Guard Firm

The area where the incidents occurred is near a fortified complex, known as the Marble compound, that is used by Unity and RTI personnel. Unity convoys frequently drive along Karrada Street, shuttling RTI personnel to and from Baghdad's Green Zone.

Merchants along Karrada Street, the main artery of an affluent retail district, said the area has become a virtual shooting gallery for armed guards traveling in sport-utility vehicles. "Whoever gets near them, they will shoot at them," said Sirry Abdul Latif, 50, a furniture shop employee, who said there had been several such shootings in the neighborhood.

A third incident occurred in the spring along the same stretch of Karrada Street in front of a popular social club, according to seven witnesses. An unidentified private security guard opened fire on a white Toyota sedan, the witnesses said, killing a male driver with a shot to the chest before speeding away. There was no indication that Unity was involved in that shooting.

Unity Resources Group is run by Australians, including former military personnel. It is headquartered in Dubai and registered in Singapore. RTI has paid the company nearly $50 million, according to RTI figures. Unity also provides security for the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. taxpayer-funded organization that conducts democracy projects in Iraq under a State Department contract.

"What we liked about URG, first of all, is that they were considered to be a little more mature," said John Lister, the former Iraq country director for the National Democratic Institute.

Unity guards have come under attack on numerous occasions; the company's co-director once described driving through Baghdad as "like being on a 'Mad Max' film set." Insurgents ambushed one of the company's convoys in January in Baghdad, killing a 28-year-old Ohio woman employed by the institute.

Ronald W. Johnson, RTI's executive vice president for international development, said RTI hired Unity partly because it was licensed by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. "We wanted a security firm that we were comfortable working with" and was also "registered to do business in Iraq," Johnson said in an interview. USAID approved Unity's contract with RTI, Johnson said.

But the licensing process does not give the Iraqi government authority over contractors, and many companies forgo a license. A 2004 law signed by L. Paul Bremer, administrator for the now-defunct U.S. occupation government, granted security contractors immunity from the Iraqi legal process. That law is still in effect.

Unity's convoys are tracked by the U.S. military through the Reconstruction Operations Center in the Green Zone. By participating in the tracking system, the company agrees to report all shooting incidents to the military. But the U.S. military has no authority over Unity because the company is not under a Defense Department contract.

In an interview, Maj. Kent Lightner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who directs the tracking system, suggested that the reporting requirements are difficult to enforce with respect to a company such as Unity.

"The real issue is that URG is a company that is not a DoD contractor, so whether they reported incidents or not is --" Lightner paused. "I don't know, I'm walking the line on that one," he said.

Lightner said military investigators requested information about Unity's movements on Oct. 9, when the company's guards killed the two women on Karrada Street. "You're going to find out or sooner or later if they're playing by the rules or not," he said.


<       2        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company