Prime Minister Says Blackwater Shooting Affects 'Sovereignty Of Iraq'
09/23/2007 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday the shooting deaths of civilians -- allegedly at the hands of Blackwater USA guards -- and other violence involving the company pose "serious challenges to the sovereignty of Iraq" and cannot be accepted.
"The Iraqi government is responsible for its citizens and it cannot be accepted for a security company to carry out a killing," he told The Associated Press, speaking in his New York hotel suite ahead of his appearance at the U.N. General Assembly.
Noting that Blackwater has been linked to at least seven incidents involving gunfire on Iraqi civilians, he added: "There are serious challenges to the sovereignty of Iraq." In Arabic, he used the word "tajawiz" which can be translated either as "affronts" or "challenges."
However, Maliki left open the possibility that Iraq and the United States would work toward a solution to the problem of Blackwater. "We have coordinated with the American side to establish a joint committee to ascertain the facts and hold accountable" those responsible, he said.
In the interview, Maliki defended his government and spoke up for the rights of Iraqis to manage their own affairs. He said that his country is making progress toward political reconciliation and that 2008 would be a year of political and economic progress and reconstruction for Iraq.
Speaking in a calm voice, al-Maliki was dismissive of some of the criticism directed at him by Washington politicians in recent months. Some members of Congress have said al-Maliki is not forceful enough in pressing for political reconciliation and achieving benchmarks meant to measure progress in the four-year U.S. intervention in Iraq.
Maliki said it is normal for any government to be criticized, but he feels certain that he has the backing in Washington he needs.
"What is important is that it did not come from the American administration or President Bush," he said of his critics. "That it comes from other areas ... for other reasons, is not a concern of mine. ... It means nothing for me," he said.
The Sept. 16 killing of at least 11 civilians near a square in central Baghdad has highlighted the practices of foreign security contractors whose aggressive protection of Western diplomats and other dignitaries has long angered Iraqis.
U.S.-Iraqi relations have been further strained by the U.S. detention of an Iranian Thursday in northern Iraq who was accused by the military of smuggling weapons to Shiite militias for use against American troops.
Al-Maliki condemned the detention and said it was his understanding that the man had been invited to Iraq.
"The government of Iraq is an elected one and sovereign. When it gives a visa, it is responsible for the visa," he said. "We consider the arrest ... of this individual who holds an Iraqi visa and a (valid) passport to be unacceptable."
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, demanded the Iranian's release on Saturday, saying he was a member of an official delegation that was in the autonomous Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah with the full knowledge of the Iraqi government and local authorities.
Military spokesman Rear Adm. Mark Fox, however, said the Iranian was posing as a businessman but was actually a member of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who was smuggling armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators known as EFPs into Iraq.
Underscoring the dangers, the military said an American soldier was killed Saturday and another wounded when an EFP hit their patrol in eastern Baghdad.
The U.S. administration is scrambling to quell Iraqi anger over the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisoor Square, in which Blackwater guards protecting a State Department convoy allegedly opened fire on Iraqis. The Moyock, N.C.-based company says its contractors were responding to an armed attack. Iraqi officials and witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked, although they have offered conflicting details.
The Interior Ministry banned Blackwater from operating in Iraq, but rolled back after the U.S. agreed to the joint investigation. The company resumed guarding a reduced number of American convoys on Friday.
But Iraqi officials said new rules have to be put in place to govern the behavior of the security companies.
"If we expel this company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops off the battlefield," Tahseen Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for the seven-month-old offensive against militants in Baghdad and surrounding areas. "This will create a security imbalance in securing Baghdad."
The Iraqi Interior Ministry complained that U.S. authorities ignored repeated complaints about past Blackwater behavior as the company was implicated in six other fatal shootings, including one on Feb. 7 outside Iraqi state television in Baghdad that killed three building guards.
"Our complaints went nowhere," deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal said.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the Americans asked the Iraqis to share any reports on Blackwater's behavior.
"We have no official documentation on file from our Iraqi partners requesting clarification of any incident, but we're open to sharing relevant findings from our past investigations," she said.
It is doubtful that foreign security contractors could be prosecuted under Iraqi law. A directive issued by U.S. occupation authorities in 2004 granted contractors, American troops and many other foreign officials immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. Security contractors also are not subject to U.S. military law under which U.S. troopers face prosecution for killing or abusing Iraqis.
- Dentist sentenced for son's dentist chair overdose
- Fresno's bike lane battle continues
- Lawmakers want to restore dental care to Medi-Cal
- Hotels helping displaced guests after Oakhurst Lodge fire
- Brad Pitt face blindness
- Clovis standoff ends peacefully, suspect in custody
- Top Valley grad rises from humble roots
- Three shot, two dead in Merced shooting
- Costco plans new store in Hanford
- Arrest made in Pinedale arson fires