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Iraq warns foreign security firms after shooting Print
By Mariam Karouny and Waleed Ibrahim
Reuters - November 20, 2007

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's government turned up the heat on private security firms on Tuesday, threatening to deal firmly with those that act outside the law and opening an investigation into the shooting of a woman in central Baghdad.

Monday's shooting was the latest in a string of incidents that have triggered widespread anger and prompted the Iraqi government to propose a change to the laws under which foreign security contractors operate.

Southeast of Baghdad, two soldiers were killed and 12 injured when a coalition forces helicopter crashed near the town of Salman Pak, the U.S. military said.

Spokesman Major Brad Leighton said initial reports indicated the crash was not the result of enemy fire.

He declined to say if the casualties were American or give details on the type of aircraft. The number of soldiers on board suggested it was a Black Hawk helicopter, the workhorse of the U.S. military, which is used to transport troops around Iraq.

The U.S. military said those responsible for the shooting in Baghdad on Monday could be charged under Iraqi law because the company involved, Dubai-based ALMCO, is a logistics contractor for food supply, construction and training, not a security firm.

Contacted in Dubai, ALMCO declined comment on the incident.

"We demand that all security companies obey the law and orders released by the Iraqi government, otherwise the security forces will be obliged to deal firmly with these companies," Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told a news conference.

Moussawi said Iraqi officials would try to bring charges against those responsible for seriously wounding the woman.

"There was a violation of Iraqi law," he said. "They were driving on the wrong side of the road, there was a random shooting and they hit a woman in her legs."

An investigation has been launched into the incident, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

Statements from the firm's employees, taken in front of a civil judge, "revealed attempted murder of Iraqi civilians and other violations," Dabbagh said.

"The Iraqi government will release those not found guilty in the Karrada incident once the investigation is concluded."

DOZENS DETAINED

Moussawi and government officials identified 43 people detained at an Iraqi checkpoint after the shooting as including 21 Sri Lankans, nine Nepalis and one Indian.

There were 12 guards -- 10 Iraqis and two Fijians -- with the convoy of four vehicles, they said.

A September shooting involving Blackwater, a private U.S. firm, in which 17 Iraqis were killed, prompted the Iraqi government to approve a draft law to end a 2004 decree by former U.S. administrators giving security firms immunity from prosecution. That draft must still be passed by parliament.

Blackwater says it acted lawfully in the September shooting.

Also on Tuesday, Iran said it had agreed to hold talks with the United States on Iraq's security in the "near future."

Another meeting between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad would be the fourth time since May that the long-time foes have sat down to discuss Iraq.

The two countries have traded blame for Iraq's violence and Tehran has denied Washington's charges that it has armed, funded and supported Shi'ite militias.

With tensions appearing to ebb slightly, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said Iran had accepted a U.S. request, via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, for a new round of talks. Iraq's government said no date had been set.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine, Tehran bureau; Writing by Paul Tait and Missy Ryan, Editing by Dean Yates)
 
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