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The perils of running armored convoys in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — When private contractors escort clients around the Iraqi capital, they use one of two methods. Low-profile security details rely on going unnoticed for safety and opt for older, nondescript vehicles. They often dress like Iraqis and keep their weapons out of sight.

High-profile details, such as those used for U.S. diplomats, typically use large, new armored SUVs or specially designed vehicles and are often recognizable at a distance.

Such convoys are at obvious risk from suicide car bombs, among other threats, and have to keep other traffic at a safe distance. Often the vehicles bear signs telling drivers to keep back 100 meters (110 yards). Police said the trucks in the convoy Tuesday had those signs.

Contractors on such high-profile missions use hand signals, shout and sometimes toss objects such as water bottles or flares to warn vehicles that get too close. Depending on the circumstances, if a vehicle keeps coming, they may shoot into the road, then into the radiator grill, then at the driver.

In Tuesday's fatal shooting, Iraqi policeman Hamed Ali, who was at the scene, said no shots were fired into the road or grill of the car carrying the two women who were killed. Other witnesses disagreed and said the contractors fired at least one warning shot into the radiator.

The roads in Iraq are often chaotic, and civilians can be shot when, among other things, they misunderstand the situation or don't see the convoys in time to slow down.

(Price reports for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.)

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