Iraq won't allow Blackwater security firm to stay in country

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 29, 2009 

BAGHDAD — Iraq told the United States this week that it won't renew the license of Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based security firm that's provided protection for U.S. diplomats in Iraq but has been widely criticized as using force excessively.

"We have been informed that Blackwater's private-security company operating license will not be granted," a U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to talk on the record. "We don't have specifics about dates. We are working with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision."

A new U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect Jan. 1 lifts immunity from prosecution for contractors, including Blackwater.

Blackwater was accused of an improper use of force in a series of fatal incidents in Iraq, among them the killing of a bodyguard of Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi in 2006 in the heavily fortified Green Zone by an employee who was drunk and off duty.

The most infamous incident occurred in September 2007 at al Nisoor square in Baghdad, where Blackwater guards opened fire in a crowded street of traffic and pedestrians, killing 17 civilians.

Last month, five of the men were charged with voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent act. A sixth agreed to a plea bargain.

It's unclear when Blackwater will need to leave Iraq. Iraqi officials couldn't be reached for comment.

The State Department renewed Blackwater's contract last year for one year, but said Thursday that it was due to expire later this year and could be terminated at any time.

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