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Iraqi police seize foreign security guards after shooting

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities on Monday detained at least 33 foreigners, including two men with U.S. Department of Defense-issued identification cards, in connection with a shooting incident in central Baghdad that injured a woman, the U.S. military said.

The arrests were the latest sign of growing Iraqi impatience with the activities of private security guards in the wake of the September killings of 17 Iraqi civilians by guards working for the Blackwater security company.

Also on Monday, the governor of Muthanna province said U.S. troops were no longer welcomed in the town of Samawa after U.S. troops opened fire on civilians there Sunday. Two people were reported dead in that incident on Sunday; a hospital worker said a third died Monday.

"We don't want the American troops to enter Samawa, and we will oppose if they enter," said the governor, Ahmed Marzook al Salal, who suspended cooperation with U.S. reconstruction efforts Sunday to protest the shooting. "We were handed responsibility for security a year ago, and we are not in need of the American troops."

Details of Monday's incident in Baghdad were murky. According to the Iraqi police, a private-security company opened fire on a woman as she crossed the street in the busy shopping district of Karrada. Two men also were injured, Iraqi police said.

Iraqi officers at a nearby police checkpoint witnessed the incident, chased down the convoy and detained everyone in the vehicles, including passengers who weren't security guards, according to a spokesman for the Iraqi military official who oversees the Baghdad security plan. They also seized the vehicles.

It was the first time that Iraqi police had detained foreigners after such an incident.

The U.S. military identified the detained men as employees of ALMCO, a Dubai-based company that has contracts with the U.S. military to provide catering and life-support functions for the Multi-National Security Transition Command, as well as a contract with the Joint Contracting Command to build a courthouse.

Maj. Bradford Leighton, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said it was unclear whether the men were on business related to their contracts. Leighton said that the company wasn't contracted as a security firm and that it was required to provide its own security. The men were detained by Iraqi police and are being held at an Iraqi army base that they share with U.S. troops. A few coalition soldiers are staying with the men, Leighton said. The incident is under investigation.

"Coalition forces are in contact with Iraqi officials concerning this incident," Leighton said.

Although Iraqi police said that two men were injured in the incident, the U.S. military said that only a woman sustained a injury in her leg.

Under a U.S. authority decree that governed Iraq until 2004, foreign security companies are exempt from Iraqi laws. The Iraqi government has taken steps to lift that exemption, however, in response to a Sept. 16 shooting spree in which Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqi motorists at a busy traffic circle in central Baghdad, killing at least 17. Blackwater said that the guards were firing in self-defense, but Iraqi officials said that the shootings were unprovoked, a view that reportedly has been corroborated by U.S. military and FBI investigations.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi Cabinet approved legislation that places restrictions on foreign security guards. The Iraqi parliament has yet to vote on the legislation, but Iraqi authorities have been taking steps in recent days to crack down on security companies.

Last week, Iraq's Interior Ministry ordered searches of all private-security companies' offices in Baghdad to make sure that they were in compliance with Iraqi regulations.

It was unclear whether the Iraqi authorities would seek to charge any of those arrested Monday with a crime.

The U.S. military said that two Fijians who carried U.S. government-issued identification cards, one Indian, nine Nepalese and 21 Sri Lankans had been detained. Ten Iraqis also were arrested, Leighton said.

Bruce Boyea, a manager for ALMCO, said he was unaware that anyone from his company had been detained.

Police in Samawa provided new details of Sunday's shooting. According to police Capt. Nayef Salem Ali, who's responsible for checkpoints in the city, the U.S. convoy was traveling down a two-way street when it encountered traffic coming in the opposite direction. The U.S. troops opened fire on the oncoming vehicles, which included cars and trucks, striking five.

At least five people were wounded, Ali said. Two of those people died on Sunday. A woman who was injured died Monday, according to Abbas Hamid, a medical assistant in the hospital. Her 6-year-old son was badly injured and will likely be paralyzed, Hamid said.

The U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy issued a joint statement Sunday regretting the loss of "innocent life."

Iraqi police in Babil province, south of Baghdad, also reported a shooting incident Sunday involving a U.S. military convoy. No details were available, but police said a taxi driver was killed and his wife wounded when U.S. soldiers opened fire.

U.S. military officials said they had no information about that incident.

(Nancy A. Youssef and McClatchy special correspondent Hussein Kadhim contributed to this report from Baghdad. Special correspondent Qassim Zein contributed to this report from Samawa.)

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