Deadly Shootings by State Dept. Contractors in Iraq Fall to 1 From 72

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 20, 2008

Private security contractors guarding State Department officials in Iraq have been involved in just one deadly shooting incident through the first 10 months of this year, compared with 72 during the same time period in 2007, the federal government reported this week.

Improved oversight of the contractors, through a number of changes in procedure, led to the sharp drop in incidents, the department's Middle East Regional Office reported.

The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has assigned 45 additional special agents to Iraq, and one agent now accompanies most security movements. Cameras and recording equipment have been installed in security vehicles to record all motorcade movements and events, and all trips are tracked and monitored in real time by department personnel in a tactical operations center.

The establishment of "Go Teams" to immediately investigate any shooting by private security contractors and new rules for the guards' use of deadly force "strengthened the embassy's ability to hold its private security contractors accountable for their actions," the office's inspector general said. In addition, State added to its contracts with Blackwater Worldwide, DynCorp and Triple Canopy that the companies employ Arab-speaking staff members, provide cultural training to their employees and familiarize themselves with U.S. military tactics and procedures.

The review of private security firms' use of force comes more than a year after Blackwater security guards escorting U.S. Embassy officials killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded 20 others in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Five of the six guards have been indicted on U.S. charges including voluntary manslaughter, and the sixth pleaded guilty.

Incidents still occur, according to the report: Go Teams this year have investigated 13 incidents in which contractors fired guns, 39 in which they discharged small flares and 49 motor vehicle accidents. The newly established Embassy Joint Incident Review Board, set up to review incidents involving injury or death, has not yet needed to meet, the report said.

The situation is far from that in earlier years, when, as one former senior embassy security officer described it in the report, contractor convoys "sped through crowded urban streets, sometimes on the wrong side of the road, and threw water bottles and fruit and used gunfire to warn off civilians."

The inspector general raised questions about whether the State Department had taken into consideration a possible need for more protective services as the U.S. military presence in Baghdad and other major cities transforms next year.

It also discussed the impact of the status-of-forces agreement between Iraq and the United States that takes effect Jan. 1. Iraq will assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over deadly-force incidents involving contractors; currently the firms have U.S. immunity from prosecution in most instances. According to the IG report, "It was the consensus of the department, embassy and security contractors" that if immunity were removed, "many [contractors] would leave and those contractors staying would ask for and receive premium compensation." The IG report said that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is working with the Iraqis on crafting a new law that would govern private security contractors.

Iraq has renewed licenses for DynCorp and Triple Canopy to do business in Iraq, but Blackwater's request for a renewal is still pending. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that the FBI is conducting an ongoing investigation, after which the Baghdad embassy would make a recommendation about Blackwater and other companies. He added that he expected the final decision on renewal would rest with President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

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