Iraq booting 250 Blackwater employees, minister confirms
Iraq has apparently had enough of the controversial Xe Services LLC, the private military contractor previously known as Blackwater.
The Voice of Iraq reports, “A total of 250 employees working for the U.S. security firm Blackwater have been dismissed and given seven days to leave Iraq, the Iraqi minister of interior said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV.”
“Iraq has ordered about 250 former and current employees of Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country within seven days or face having their visas pulled,” the Associated Press reports in a breaking story.
The AP adds, “Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said on Wednesday the order targets security contractors who worked for Blackwater at the time of the shootout. He said all ‘concerned parties’ were notified of the order three days ago.”
“We want to turn the page,” al-Bolani told AP. “It was a painful experience, and we would like to go forward.”
US Vice President Joe Biden announced during a visit to Baghdad in January that Washington will appeal a judge’s decision to clear five US security guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007 while working for Blackwater.
The five guards, who had been part of a convoy of armoured vehicles, had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others during the attack at a busy Baghdad square using guns and grenades.
Iraq says 17 people were killed.
But, on December 31, US Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the charges against the five guards, saying prosecutors violated their rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a US State Department probe.
The verdict provoked a furor in Iraq.
“The United States does not tolerate attacks on innocent Iraqi civilians,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters in January.
“Whatever the case’s ultimate outcome, we deeply regret the suffering and loss of life caused by the Nisour Square shootings,” he said.
“And we are fully committed to holding accountable persons who commit such crimes, whether at home or abroad,” Crowley said.
The case was among the most sensational that sought to hold Blackwater employees accountable for what was seen as a culture of lawlessness and lack of accountability in the company’s Iraq operations.
Blackwater, which has since renamed itself Xe, pulled out of Iraq in May, after the US State Department refused to renew its contracts.
(with AFP reports)