Blackwater key to US-Iraq talks: ambassador
Agence France Presse (2008-02-05)
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WASHINGTON (AFP) — The status and role of private security firms like Blackwater in Iraq is central to upcoming talks between Washington and Baghdad, Iraqi ambassador to the US Samir Sumaidaie said Tuesday.
The future of such private security companies "is one of the prime concerns that the Iraqis will put on the table," he told reporters in Washington.
"We want them to be accountable. Our position is that we want them to be accountable under Iraqi law."
Blackwater is the most controversial of several private US security firms tasked with protecting high-profile US officials and foreign dignitaries visiting Iraq.
Iraqi leaders will meet their US allies later this month to negotiate a new agreement on relations between the two countries and the long-term presence of US forces, the Iraqi government announced on Monday.
The private companies are under fire because of the high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries they inflict upon Iraqis.
The most controversial such incident occurred on September 16, 2007 when Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
The companies at present are not subject to Iraq law, but at the same time are not governed by US military tribunals, allowing them to operate without any repercussions for their actions.
Sumaidaie said he ruled out blanket immunity for the companies.
"For us it is unacceptable," he said. "I think it should be unacceptable for the Americans as well because that gives them licence to do anything they please which is counter-productive from the American point of view."