Blackwater shooting was unjustified, Iraqi panel says
The widow of an Iraqi vice presidential guard killed last year by a Blackwater USA employee said Sunday that she had yet to receive compensation, and Iraq’s government concluded that a shooting last month by the private security firm’s guards was unjustified.
A statement from government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said that a commission formed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to investigate the Sept. 16 shooting had finished its work and concluded that the Blackwater convoy was not fired on “directly or indirectly, and was not even hit by a stone.”
The panel also said that 17 Iraqis died in the shooting, not 11 as has been previously reported, and that 27 were wounded.
Blackwater says the violence erupted after its convoy came under fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection. Iraqi witnesses say the gunfire was unprovoked and typical of what most Iraqis see as the cowboy attitude exercised by private security companies contracted to guard high-level officials in Iraq.
Another investigative body comprising U.S. and Iraqi government officials held its first meeting Sunday. It issued a statement saying it would make recommendations on how to ensure that personal security companies “do not endanger public safety.”
A third, U.S.-run investigation also is underway into the September shooting, which has shed light on other incidents involving Blackwater and sparked Iraqi demands that foreign security companies be subject to Iraqi law or banned from the country.
Another Blackwater incident receiving publicity involves Raheem Khalif Hulaichi, who was fatally shot while on guard duty last Christmas Eve at Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi’s compound inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
Witnesses, whose accounts are contained in State Department memos presented to a congressional committee looking into Blackwater, said the private guard who shot Hulaichi was visibly drunk and smelled of alcohol.
The Blackwater employee told investigators he shot the Iraqi guard in self-defense.
Hulaichi left behind a wife, Umm Sajjad, 30, and two sons, 6 and 10. They live in a small rented house in northeast Baghdad’s Sadr City district.
Even though Blackwater and the State Department agreed that the family should receive $15,000 compensation, Umm Sajjad said they had not yet received money because the vice president’s office felt the sum was too low.
“The money of the whole world is not able to compensate for my husband, but what I want is enough to guarantee my children’s future . . . and to buy a house,” she said in an interview Sunday.
“I don’t want them to feel that they lost their father,” she said of her sons. “My responsibilities now are to act as both a mother and a father.”
Azad Jaff, a security official in the vice president’s office who has been leading negotiations on the family’s behalf, said they were demanding $100,000. Jaff said Blackwater had forwarded $20,000, but the vice president’s office felt it was insufficient.
Blackwater did not respond Sunday to requests for comment.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson declined to comment specifically on the widow’s statement. She said the Justice Department is investigating the Christmas Eve shooting.
In the interview, Umm Sajjad said that the Iraqi government had paid her three months of her husband’s salary and that her family was helping her out financially. “I didn’t expect that my life would be changed this way,” she said.
Umm Sajjad also said she believed that the Blackwater guard who shot her husband had been brought back to Baghdad to face trial. In reality, he was flown out of Iraq by U.S. officials and has not been charged with a crime.
Also on Sunday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, stepped up the accusations against Iran by alleging that the Islamic Republic’s ambassador in Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, is a member of the Iranian military’s secretive Quds Force unit. Petraeus made the comments to journalists traveling with him to visit troops at a base near the Iranian border.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini dismissed the accusation, the Reuters news service reported.
Iran has consistently denied involvement in Iraq’s violence, but the United States says it provides training, intelligence and weaponry.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it was holding three Shiite Muslim militiamen suspected of involvement in the May abduction of five British contractors. The five have not been seen since a brazen assault on an Iraqi Finance Ministry building by dozens of men dressed in Iraqi police uniforms.
Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day military commander in Iraq, said last month that he had reason to believe the five -- a computer expert and four security guards -- were still alive.
The three suspects were captured Saturday in Sadr City, a U.S. military statement said. It said they were believed to be connected with militias involved in kidnappings, weapons smuggling from Iran to Iraq, and movement of Iraqi militants into Iran for training.
At least nine Iraqis were killed in three bombings in Baghdad on Sunday, police said, including one that targeted a passing U.S. military convoy but killed three civilians instead.
Special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.