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Blackwater guards killed 17, probe finds

Iraqi investigation recommends trial

BAGHDAD - An official Iraqi investigation into a deadly shooting involving Blackwater USA security guards concluded that 17 Iraqis were killed and found that the gunfire was unwarranted, the government said yesterday. It also said the shootings amounted to a deliberate crime and recommended that those involved face trial.

The Blackwater guards are accused of opening fire on Iraqi civilians in a main square in Baghdad on Sept. 16. The guards said they came under fire first.

The Iraqi investigative committee, ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, found that convoys from the Moyock, N.C.-based security company did not come under direct or indirect fire before the men shot up the intersection.

"It was not hit even by a stone," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

The shooting has outraged Iraqis and brought calls for the rules governing those protecting American diplomats to be overhauled.

The three-member Iraqi panel led by Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi put the casualty toll at 17 killed and 23 wounded, a higher number than other estimates. It determined that Blackwater guards sprayed western Baghdad's Nisoor Square with gunfire without provocation.

Dabbagh said the Cabinet would weigh the Iraqi findings with those of a joint US-Iraqi commission "and subsequently adopt the legal procedures to hold this company accountable."

The Iraqi panel is one of at least three investigations involving Americans. The joint US-Iraqi commission also met for the first time yesterday to review American security operations after the shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has dispatched a team to Baghdad, and retired veteran diplomat Stapleton Roy is leading a diplomatic review, along with a former State Department and intelligence official, Eric Boswell. The panel, led by Patrick Kennedy, one of the most senior management specialists in the US Foreign Service, was to present an interim report early this month.

The Sept. 16 episode was one of at least six involving deaths allegedly caused by Blackwater that authorities have brought to the attention of the Americans.

The joint commission exchanged opinions about the shootings and agreed on a need to establish a direct mechanism for sharing information and to review several issues related to US security operations, embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said.

The joint commission is expected to issue recommendations to both Baghdad and Washington on improving Iraqi and US security procedures, with the "goal of ensuring that personal security detail operations do not endanger public safety" and prevent similar events in the future.

Across the Iraqi capital, bombings killed at least nine Iraqis in three attacks, including one near Iran's embassy, police said.

The attacks started with an early morning explosion near a minibus carrying workers into central Baghdad. Three people were killed in the roadside bombing, which apparently targeted a police patrol, according to a police official who requested anonymity.

A half-hour later, in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, a second roadside bomb targeting a US patrol missed its target, killing three Iraqi civilians, police said.

And in the downtown commercial area of Salihiyah, a bomb planted in a car parked near the Iranian Embassy exploded about 8:30 a.m., killing three Iraqi passersby, according to police.

Separately, the US military said a predawn raid Saturday in Baghdad's Sadr City netted three men believed responsible for the May 29 abduction of five Britons - four security guards and a computer specialist. In the kidnapping, about 40 armed men in police uniforms swept into the Iraqi Finance Ministry and took the Britons toward Sadr City.

As recently as last month, the US military has said it believes the Britons are still alive.

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