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Iraqis Detail Shooting by Guard Firm

But a military spokesman, Navy Capt. Victor Beck, said he was unaware of any U.S. government investigation into that shooting incident or any other involving Unity. RTI and the U.S. Embassy said Unity is cooperating with Iraqi authorities.

The June 24 incident illustrates how gaps in oversight can preclude a thorough investigation.

Four witnesses said the Unity convoy opened fire after encountering the white van while traveling westbound in light, early morning traffic. One witness said the van was 40 to 60 yards behind the convoy after entering Karrada Street from a side road. The Unity guards waved two red flags to warn the driver, then quickly opened fire, according to the witness, a local resident who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The van swerved to the right and crashed into a lamppost, according to Thamir, the al-Mehdi bakery worker, and Tahir Sia, 75, who also works there. After wrenching open the passenger-side door, Thamir and Sia said, they pulled out the injured driver, who had white hair, appeared to be about 60 and was covered in blood. The man's left wrist was slashed diagonally, according to Thamir.

"He was probably hit on other parts of his body, but the major wound was on his arm," Thamir said.

Thamir and Sia said that local police never questioned them about the incident and that the man's fate and identity were unknown. Police in Karrada, leafing through a large, handwritten logbook with pages spilling from its spine, said they were unable to find a record of the incident.

Word of the shooting spread through the Green Zone "like wildfire," said a former RTI employee who requested anonymity out of concern that he would jeopardize future employment as a government contractor.

After the Oct. 9 shooting, The Post was told about an earlier Unity incident on Karrada Street that had caused one or more casualties. RTI initially said it had no information about such a shooting, but later said it discovered internal records of the incident after The Post provided the witnesses' detailed accounts.

"We are aware of an incident in which shots were fired at a white van on June 24, 2007," Gibbons, the company spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. "A convoy was approached by a white van that failed to heed escalated warnings (arm signals, flares and warning shots). Shots were then fired, and the van was disabled along the median."

Gibbons wrote that Unity had conducted a "two-month investigation" but was unable to find any information indicating that a casualty had occurred.

Informed that several witnesses had said the van's driver incurred serious injuries, Gibbons e-mailed an amended report from Willard E. Marsden Jr., RTI's director for international security.

According to that report, one of Unity's Iraqi guards "witnessed the victim being placed into a privately owned vehicle. It was understood that the vehicle would transport the victim to the hospital."

When an Iraqi employee was later dispatched to the hospital, he was "unable to find either the victim or any indication that he had been treated and/or released."

As a result, Marsden wrote, "later URG reports deleted the reference to the victim being taken to the hospital."

Special correspondent Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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