Iraq Orders All Blackwater Guards to Leave Country

Crime, Law and JusticeGovernmentTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemBaghdad (Iraq)National GovernmentHeads of State

BAGHDAD -- Iraq has ordered hundreds of private securityguards linked to Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country withinseven days or face possible arrest on visa violations, the interiorminister said Wednesday.

The order comes in the wake of a U.S. judge dismissing criminalcharges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in theSeptember 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.

It applies to about 250 security contractors who worked forBlackwater in Iraq at the time of the incident, Interior MinisterJawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press.

Some of the guards now work for other security firms in Iraq,while others work for a Blackwater subsidiary, al-Bolani said.

He said all "concerned parties" were notified of the order threedays ago and now have four days left before they must leave.

Blackwater security contractors were protecting U.S. diplomatswhen the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdadintersection, on Sept. 16, 2007.

Seventeen people were killed,including women and children, in a shooting that inflamedanti-American sentiment in Iraq.

"We want to turn the page," al-Bolani said. "It was a painfulexperience, and we would like to go forward."

Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater is now known as Xe Services, aname change that happened after six of the security firm's guardswere charged in the Nisoor Square shootout.

At the time, Blackwater was the largest of the State Department's three securitycontractors working in Iraq.

One of the accused guards pleaded guilty in the case, but afederal judge in Washington threw out charges against the otherfive in December, rapping the Justice Department for mishandlingthe evidence.

The legal ruling infuriated Iraqis, with Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki vowing to seek punishment for the guards.

Last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad toappease Iraqis with a promise by the Obama administration to appealthe case and bring the guards back to trial.

The shooting further strained relations between the UnitedStates and Iraq, leading the parliament in Baghdad to seek new lawsthat would clear the way for foreign contractors to be prosecutedin Iraqi courts.

The U.S. government rejected those demands in theBlackwater case.

In January 2009, the State Department informed Blackwater thatit would not renew its contracts to provide security for U.S.diplomats in Iraq because of the Iraqi government's refusal togrant it an operating license.

But last September, the agency said it temporarily extended acontract with a Blackwater subsidiary known as Presidential Airwaysto provide air support for U.S. diplomats.

The Justice Department now is investigating whether Blackwatertried to bribe Iraqi officials with about $1 million to allow thecompany to keep working there after the Baghdad shooting, accordingto U.S. officials close to the probe.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times