US to comply with Iraq ban on Blackwater
Published: Thursday January 29, 2009

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Guards will be able to keep jobs if they switch employers

"The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday," The Washington Post reported from Mosul early Thursday.

"Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq," the Post added. "Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday...

"When the work of this committee ends," Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said, private security companies "will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don't have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately."

The US State Department said Thursday it will comply with Iraq's ban on controversial US security outfit Blackwater but still had to decide on the "next steps" to ensure security for its employees.

Iraq said Thursday it scrapped the license for Blackwater, the firm at the forefront of a booming private security business in Iraq, over a 2007 Baghdad shooting involving its guards in which 17 civilians were killed.

"We're going to comply with the Iraqi decision. We have no choice but to do that," State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

"So we're just right now trying to formulate how we're going to go forward," he said.

"But I just wanted to make clear that we're going to do everything, you know, to make sure that our embassy employees have the security they need," Wood added. "We're looking at next steps."

When pressed on whether the next steps would involve another contractor, Wood replied: "We're looking at a variety of possibilities. But I'm not here to outline those possibilities at this point."

Blackwater Worldwide, a multi-million dollar US State Department contractor in Iraq, is being expelled over the deaths of civilians at Nisur Square, a busy Baghdad intersection, on September 16, 2007, the Iraqi interior ministry said.

An Iraqi investigation found that 17 civilians were killed and 20 wounded when Blackwater guards opened fire with automatic weapons while escorting a US diplomatic convoy through Baghdad.

US prosecutors say 14 civilians were killed.

The firm and its wealthy founder Erik Prince maintain its guards were responding to fire and acting in self-defense, but residents adamantly rejected such claims.

(with wire reports)