World and Nation

Baghdad Bans U.S. Contractor After Gunfire Kills Eight Iraqis

Blackwater USA, an American contractor that provides security to some of the top American officials in Iraq, has been banned from working in the country by the Iraqi government after a shooting that left eight Iraqis dead and involved an American diplomatic convoy.

A spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, said that authorities had canceled the company’s license and that the government would prosecute the participants. But under the rules that govern private security contractors here, the Iraqis do not have the legal authority to do so.

The shooting took place in Baghdad on Sunday, but the details were still unclear, and American officials stopped short of saying whether the Blackwater guards in the diplomatic motorcade had caused any of the deaths. Bombs were going off in the area at the time, and shots were fired at the convoy, American officials said.

“There was a firefight,” said Sean McCormack, the principal State Department spokesman. “We believe some innocent life was lost. Nobody wants to see that. But I can’t tell you who was responsible for that.”

The deaths struck a nerve with Iraqis, who say that private security firms are often quick to shoot and are rarely held responsible for their actions. A law issued by the American authority in Iraq before the United States handed over sovereignty to Iraqis, Order No. 17, gives the companies immunity from Iraqi law. A security expert based in Baghdad said on Monday night that the order, issued in 2004, had never been overturned. Like others, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains under official inquiry.

Senior officials, including Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, expressed outrage.

“This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent in front of,” said Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, in remarks on Al Arabiya television. “Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis. We apply the law and are committed to it.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called al-Maliki on Monday afternoon to express her regret “over the death of innocent civilians that occurred during the attack on an embassy convoy,” said Tom Casey, another State Department spokesman.

Al-Maliki’s office said Rice had pledged to “take immediate steps to show the United States’ willingness to prevent such actions.”