BAGHDAD — Security contractors escorting a convoy shot and killed two women Tuesday afternoon in central Baghdad, police said. Iraqi Interior ministry officials later identified the contractors as employees of the Dubai-based Unity Resources Group.
A Unity executive called the ministry after the shootings to apologize, said Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a ministry spokesman. The company official said the firm was willing to compensate the families of the victims and had begun an internal investigation.
Unity officials in Dubai and Iraq couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The women, both Iraqi Christians, were traveling in a white Oldsmobile behind the four-vehicle convoy at about 1:45 p.m. when it stopped for traffic, police said. Someone in the convoy fired a small flare toward the car to warn the driver to stop, the police said. The driver slammed on her brakes and skidded about 20 yards.
A man at a gun portal in the back of the last armored vehicle began shooting an automatic weapon into the hood and windshield of car. Then another guard leaned out of a door and did the same, police said.
Between them, they fired about 30 times, said Hamed Ali, an Iraqi policeman who was manning a checkpoint at the shooting site. The car was about 75 yards from the armored vehicles when the shooting started, he said as he showed journalists the skid marks.
"There was no reason at all to shoot at these women," he said.
Killed were the driver, Geneva Jalal Antranik, about 30, an employee in a church, and Marani Awanis Manouik, about 48.
The women suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Antranik was also hit in the chest, said officers at a nearby police station where their car was moved after the shootings.
A boy riding in the back seat of the white sedan suffered only minor injuries, but panicked and ran after the shooting, and police couldn't find him.
Unity Resources Group often escorts staff of RTI, a North Carolina-based contractor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, but no RTI personnel were in the vehicles, the company said.
Word of the killings spread quickly in Baghdad, where residents remain angry about the deaths of 17 Iraqis when contractors employed by the North Carolina-based Blackwater USA opened fire in a busy Baghdad traffic circle on Sept. 16.
The latest incident came at a sensitive time for contractors and the government and private agencies that employ them. A team of FBI investigators is in Baghdad probing the Blackwater killings, and a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee sparked by that incident held its first meeting Sunday. It's studying how to better regulate the thousands of security contractors who work in Iraq.
Iraqi lawmakers are planning to overturn a law that protects contractors from prosecution under Iraqi law, and in the United States last week, a House of Representatives committee asked Blackwater owner Erik Prince to testify at a hearing that examined whether the government has proper oversight of security contractors. The House also overwhelmingly approved a bill designed to make it easier to prosecute contractors who commit crimes overseas and to position FBI teams in conflict zones to investigate such crimes.
Compared with other cases, the U.S. military moved quickly. About half a dozen U.S. military Humvees drove to the area a few hours after the shooting. U.S. troops photographed the damaged car and 19 shell casings that the police had picked up as evidence, then cordoned off the shooting site and interviewed witnesses.
Not long after U.S. troops left the police station, a group of officials from the Ministry of Interior swept in and collected all the evidence and reports and ordered local police officers at the station to stop their investigation. The Interior Ministry later said it had started its own investigation.
Asked why he didn't shoot at the armored vehicles or try to block them from leaving, Ali, the policeman who witnessed the shootings, said it wouldn't have been possible.
"The government cannot stop them," he said. "How can I?"
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(Dulaimy is a McClatchy special correspondent. Price writes for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.)