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IRAQ: Blackwater security may be forced out of Iraq

January 29, 2009 |  7:51 am

Blackwater Worldwide, the security firm that allegedly used excessive force to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, will soon be forced to leave the country, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

Iraq's Ministry of Interior has announced that it will not renew Blackwater's security license. The move follows a November agreement between Iraq and the U.S. that allows the Iraqi government to decide which security firms can operate here. Blackwater employs roughly 1,000 personnel in Iraq.

"We have been informed that Blackwater’s private security company operating license will not be granted," said a U.S. embassy official Thursday.  "We don’t have specifics about dates.  We are working with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision."

The announcement comes at a time when violence has dropped significantly across the nation but also as federal prosecutors in the U.S.  prepare to try five former Blackwater guards on manslaughter and weapons charges. The charges stem from a Sept. 16, 2007, incident in downtown Baghdad in which a security detail opened fire on Iraqi civilians, killing 17. The guards maintain that they started shooting when their convoy came under fire.

Up until the implementation of a Status of Forces Agreement this month, private security firms were granted immunity from Iraqi criminal prosecution. Now, however, their actions will draw intense scrutiny from local officials.

Despite the Iraqi government's announcement, Blackwater's status remained unclear Thursday.
Anne E. Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said the company had yet to be informed officially of the decision.

"Blackwater followed the proper procedures to apply for and secure operating licenses in Iraq. We have received no official communications from the government of Iraq or our customer on the status of those applications or the future of our work in Iraq," Tyrrell said.

"Blackwater has always said that we will continue the important work of protecting U.S.government officials in Iraq for as long as our customer asks us to do so, and in accordance with Iraqi law; that has not changed."

-- Monte Morin in Baghdad

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