Foreign contractors held after new Iraq shooting
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BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraqi soldiers detained a group of private security guards after they opened fire in central Baghdad on Monday wounding a woman and rekindling controversy over the operations of foreign contractors.
Iraqi officials told AFP that the guards involved in the latest shooting were Italian but a foreign ministry spokesman in Rome insisted no Italians were among those detained.
"Iraqi soldiers arrested some men of an Italian PSD (private security detail) after they opened fire randomly on citizens in Karrada in which a woman was wounded," Brigadier General Qasim Ata of the Iraqi army told AFP.
"They are in custody now and the incident is under investigation."
An Iraqi security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three Italians had been detained after the incident. The guards were in a convoy of three vehicles as it passed through Karrada, a busy shopping district.
"They tried to disperse the cars on the road and make their way through when guards in one of their convoy vehicles opened fire. One woman was wounded in the firing," he told AFP.
The official said the streets were crowded at the time of the shooting and people quickly gathered around the vehicles, preventing them from moving. Iraqi soldiers arrived minutes later and arrested the contractors.
In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesman insisted that no Italians were among the contractors detained.
"The office of the Iraqi prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki) told us that no Italian was on the list of employees of the company," the spokesman said.
There has been mounting controversy over the operations of private security guards in Iraq since a shooting in September in which guards of Blackwater USA gunned down civilians in a Baghdad square.
Last week, the New York Times reported that the FBI had found in its initial investigation that at least 14 Iraqis were killed without justification in the September 16 shooting involving Blackwater.
In all, 17 people were killed when Blackwater staff opened fire in a crowded Baghdad neighbourhood as they protected a State Department convoy. Blackwater said the guards came under attack.
On October 10, guards employed by Australian-managed security firm Unity Resources Group raked a car with automatic gunfire, killing two women in central Baghdad.
Guards said they believed they were about to be attacked by a suicide bomber.
On November 10, guards of US company Dyncorp shot dead a taxi driver in the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Utafiya as they were escorting US diplomats.
Dyncorp guards too said they believed they were under attack.
A furious Prime Minister Maliki has demanded that Blackwater leave the country.
The issue is under discussion between US diplomats and military officials and the Iraqi government in a joint commission set up to examine in depth the deployment of private guards in Iraq.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters at the weekend that while the government did not want to outlaw private security companies, they had to be regulated.
"We understand that foreign companies working in Iraq would want to hire their own security because the security levels here are not up to the standards that they would like.
"The government does not want to ban anyone ... but they must be regulated. There should be Iraqi regulations. It is not possible to have zero regulations for people holding weapons in this country," Dabbagh said.
"We understand that security companies are subject to high levels of stress ... but when there are incidents, members should be held accountable."