Blackwater blamed for deaths of reporter, 3 guards

BAGHDAD — The Blackwater incidents cited by Iraq's Interior Ministry as reason for the security firm to be barred from operating in Iraq include the deaths of four people with ties to Iraq's government-funded television network.

The first of those was the Feb. 2 shooting death of Suhad Shakir, a reporter with the Al Atyaf channel, as she was driving to work. She died outside the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

Five days later, three Iraqi security guards were gunned down inside the fortified compound that houses the government-funded Iraqi Media Network, which is also known as Iraqiya.

Habib Sadr, the network's director general, said the three guards, members of Iraq's Facilities Protection Service, were at their post at the back of the complex. A towering blast wall was a short distance in front of them to protect the compound from Haifa Street, which is notorious for car bombings and drive-by shootings.

According to Sadr and Interior Ministry officials, the three were picked off one by one by Blackwater snipers stationed on the roof of the 10-story Justice Ministry about 220 yards away on the opposite side of the street.

Nibras Mohammed Dawood was shot first as he stood in a sand-bagged guard post. Azhar Abdullah Ali was shot when he ran to help. Sabah Salman Hassoun was shot when he, too, tried to aid his wounded colleagues. All were between the ages of 20 and 25, Sadr said.

It's unclear what motivated the shootings. From where they were standing, the guards weren't likely to have been threatening to the Blackwater snipers, who were stationed nearly a city block away and perhaps 80 to 100 feet above street level.

Blackwater didn't respond to a request for information. One U.S. official confirmed that the incident had happened. He asked that his name not be disclosed because he wasn't authorized to talk.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the incident was captured on videotape, but he declined to share the tape. He said the incident is among seven submitted to an Iraqi magistrate recently to determine if criminal charges should be brought against Blackwater contractors.

"The investigation showed that they were killed in cold blood and in an aggressive and unjustified way," Sadr said. "I believe that if this happened in any state in the United States and they killed an animal, it would be condemned by all.

"They were target practice," Sadr said.

Related stories from McClatchy DC