Iraq seeks to repeal contractor immunity law

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Cabinet approved draft legislation on Tuesday that would repeal a law granting immunity to foreign security firms working in Iraq.

The draft, which still requires the approval of parliament, is part of the Iraqi government’s response to a shooting last month involving guards from Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based private security firm, that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and 27 wounded.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said the Cabinet unanimously approved the draft. Several important pieces of legislation have been stalled in parliament for months, but al-Dabbagh said he was certain legislators would approve a tough law on foreign security guards.

“There has been a lot of anger because of this Blackwater incident,” he said. “There was a bit of a sense of urgency.”

The measure would repeal a law known as Order 17 that was issued by Paul Bremer, who led the American occupation in Iraq until June 2004. The move by the Iraqi Cabinet follows reports this week that Blackwater guards were granted partial immunity during a State Department investigation into the Sept. 16 incident.

Iraq is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards despite the company’s insistence they acted in self-defense.

Al-Dabbagh said the new law would not apply retroactively, meaning that private security guards could not be prosecuted for crimes committed before the legislation is passed.

The Sept. 16 shootings in west Baghdad’s Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and prompted still-unanswered questions about who fired first. Blackwater has said its convoy was already under attack before it opened fire.

A follow-up investigation by the Iraqi government concluded that Blackwater’s men were unprovoked. No witnesses have been found to contradict that finding.

An initial report by U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq, indicates “no enemy activity involved” in the incident. The report says Blackwater guards were traveling against the flow of traffic through a traffic circle when they “engaged five civilian vehicles with small-arms fire” at a distance of 50 meters.

In Washington, State Department officials noted Tuesday that limited immunity has been routinely offered to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq, and denied such actions jeopardized criminal prosecution of Blackwater USA guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to discuss specifics of the agency’s role in the investigation, but said any immunity deals should not stop the Justice Department from prosecuting.

Senior law enforcement officials said the legal protections offered by the State Department could derail prosecution if investigators are unable to unearth other evidence from a crime scene now six weeks old.

Meanwhile, Pentagon and State Department officials have reached a general understanding that U.S. military commanders in Baghdad should have more oversight of the government’s private security contractors in Iraq and greater control over their movement, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The military also wants to have a better understanding about how the private guards are trained and assurance that they are all following the same rules for the use of deadly force, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

HRT Rescue Technician Andy Toyota gives the thumbs-up to crew members in the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue helicopter shortly before takeoff during an interagency training session held by Northwest Regional Aviation on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the Arlington Airport in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
From around state, authorities simulate ‘terrorist attack’ in Arlington

Teams from King County, Snohomish County and elsewhere converged for a multi-faceted scenario Thursday at the Arlington Municipal Airport.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Marysville
5 Snohomish County sisters accused of $1M fraud scheme

For two years, the women used online return postage to get gift cards, then returning the physical items to a brick-and-mortar store, charges say.

FILE — Michael Whitaker, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, testifies before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 6, 2024. Whitaker told a Senate panel, on Thursday, June 13, 2024, that changes are being made to the agency’s oversight of Boeing, including conducting more safety inspections. (Anna Rose Layden/The New York Times)
Boeing discloses new quality problem on 787 Dreamliner jets

The issue affects jets built in South Carolina that have yet to be delivered, the company said in a statement.

Alvin Cooper (Photo provided by Marysville School District)
After allegations, Marysville schools’ HR director resigns

Last week, the district’s finance director Lisa Gonzales publicly called for the school board to put Alvin Cooper on leave, citing mismanagement.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

Everett
Fake gun sends Cascade High School into lockdown

Police detained a suspect with a fake weapon around 12:30 p.m. The lockout was lifted before 1:30 p.m.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.