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Iraq focuses on prosecution of security groups Print
Oct 31, 2007

Iraq's cabinet yesterday backed a draft law to make foreign security contractors liable to prosecution, amid continuing controversy over the behaviour of Blackwater and other security companies in the country.

The bill still has to be approved by Iraq's fractious parliament, but legislators said support would be likely, since the issue has inflamed political and public opinion.

"The cabinet has approved a law that will put non-Iraqi firms and those they employ under Iraqi law," Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraqi government spokesman, told news agencies after a cabinet meeting.

The controversy over private security contractors has come to a head following an incident last month in which Blackwater security guards allegedly fired at unarmed Iraqi civilians, killing 17.

The Iraqi move follows claims by US law enforcement officials that the state department had offered immunity to Blackwater employees concerning their testimony about the incident, complicating any investigation and possibly jeopardising the result.

It was not clear whether the proposed legislation would apply retrospectively.

Under a June 2004 decree, promulgated before the US handed over sovereignty to a post-Saddam Hussein government, foreign security contractors are immune from Iraqi legal processes for any actions carried out as part of their work.

Although Iraq's government and parliament generally have had a poor record for passing controversial legislation, the country's otherwise heavily divided factions are united in their distaste for the immunity granted to armed foreigners.

"I haven't seen (the draft legislation) yet, but I think it will be passed," said independent Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman.

The Blackwater case has also led to clashes between the Bush administration and Congress, which is pressing Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, over Blackwater's performance as the state department's security contractor in the Baghdad area.

Yesterday Ms Rice's spokesman declined to comment on the investigation, now headed by the FBI, into last month's incident. But he stressed that the secretary of state felt that anyone who had broken laws or rules had to be held accountable.

The FBI declined to comment. But the immunity granted by the state department bureau of diplomatic security is understood to apply only to statements that Blackwater employees made to state department investigators.

"Any suggestion that the Blackwater employees in question have been given immunity from federal criminal prosecution is inaccurate," a department of justice spokesman said.
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