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Aussie boss regrets Baghdad shootings Print
 10. October 2007 - The Australian News

AN Australian-linked security company says it regrets the deaths of two female civilians shot dead by its guards in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Christian women died when heavily armed guards working for the Unity Resources Group fired on a car as it approached their convoy at a central Baghdad intersection.

Unity says the car - a white sedan being used by one of the women as an unofficial taxi to raise money for her family - failed to stop despite being warned to do so.

The women's deaths yesterday are the latest blamed on heavily armed protection details in Baghdad and may sharpen demands to curb security firms watching over diplomats, aid groups and others.

The incident also came a day after the Iraqi government handed US officials a report demanding hefty payments and the removal from Iraq of embattled company Blackwater USA for a shooting last month that left at least 17 civilians dead.

Unity Resources Group chief operating officer, Michael Priddin, told ABC radio today: “We deeply regret this incident and we will continue to pass on further information when the facts have been verified and the necessary people and authorities have been notified.”

Mr Priddin said the exact circumstances of the incident were still to be determined.

But he said: “One of our security teams which was mobile was approached at speed by a vehicle which had failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and signal flares. Finally shots were fired at the vehicle and the vehicle itself stopped.”

It was not clear if any of the guards involved were Australian, but Unity employs special forces veterans and former police from countries including Australia, the US, New Zealand and Britain.

Unity says it is Singapore-based and operates a headquarters in Dubai, but has offices in Australia and several Australian executives, including Mr Priddin.

Initial accounts - from company statements, witnesses and others - suggest the guards opened fire as the car failed to heed warnings to stop and drifted closer to the convoy near a Unity facility in Karrahah district.

It was not immediately clear whether the guards were protecting a client at the time.

Four armoured sport utility vehicles were about 90 metres from a main intersection in the Shi'ite-controlled district.

As the women's car, a white Oldsmobile, moved into the crossroads, the Unity guards threw a smoke bomb in an apparent bid to warn it not to come closer, said Riyadh Majid, an Iraqi policeman who saw the shooting.

Two Unity guards then opened fire. The woman driving the car tried to stop, but was killed along with her passenger. Two of the three people in the back seat were wounded.

Iraqi police investigators said they collected 19 spent 5.56mm shell casings, ammunition commonly used by US and NATO forces and most Western security organisations. The pavement was stained with blood and covered with shattered glass from the car windows.

Mr Majid said the convoy raced away after the shooting. Iraqi police came to collect the bodies and tow the car to the local station.

A second policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said the guards were masked and wearing khaki uniforms. He said one of them left the vehicle and started to shoot at the car while another opened fire from the open back door of a separate SUV.

The victims were identified as Marou Awanis, born in 1959, and Geneva Jalal, born in 1977.

Ms Awanis' sister-in-law, Anahet Bougous, said the woman had been using her car to drive government employees to work to help raise money for her three daughters. Her husband died during heart surgery last year.

“May God take revenge on those killers,” Ms Bougous said, crying outside the police station. “Now, who is going to raise them?”

“These are innocent people killed by people who have no heart or consciousness. The Iraqi people have no value to them,” said a man who was part of a group of relatives gathered with a Christian priest at the local police station.

Iraqi anger has grown against the private security companies - nearly all based in the United States, Britain and other Western countries - as symbols of the lawlessness that has ravaged their country for more than four years.

Unity has come under scrutiny before.

In March last year, the company issued an statement of sympathy after one of its guards was blamed for shooting 72-year-old Iraqi-born Australian university professor Kays Juma at a security checkpoint in Baghdad.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Juma was killed because he was in a car that failed to stop.

The danger to Unity guards was highlighted in January when three of its employees were killed and two more injured in an attack on one of its convoys in Baghdad.

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