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MID: Iraq ends licence of US security firm Blackwater

29 Jan 2009 8:06 PM

BAGHDAD, Jan 29 AFP - Iraq will not renew the operating licence of US security firm Blackwater Worldwide because of a 2007 incident involving its guards in which civilians were killed in Baghdad, an official said on Thursday.

"The contract is finished and will be not be renewed by order of the minister of the interior," interior ministry spokesman Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP.

Blackwater, a major State Department contractor in Iraq, is being expelled over the deaths of the Iraqi civilians at a busy Baghdad intersection on September 16, 2007, in a case that infuriated Iraqis, Khalaf said.

"It is because of the shooting incident in 2007," he said.

An Iraqi investigation found that 17 civilians were killed and 20 injured in the incident, in which Blackwater guards opened fire while escorting an American diplomatic convoy through Baghdad. The firm says its guards were acting in self defence.

Five former Blackwater guards have gone on trial in Washington over the incident. They have pleaded not guilty to killing 14 Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others by gunfire and grenades.

Their trial is expected to begin on January 29, 2010.

Critics have repeatedly accused Blackwater of having a cowboy mentality and a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach when carrying out security duties in Iraq.

After the incident, the Iraqi government pressed the State Department to withdraw Blackwater from the country, but the security firm's contract was renewed in 2008.

Foreign security teams in Iraq have long operated in a legal grey area, but Iraqi officials have refused to grant immunity to foreign contract workers in a new military accord signed in November that governs US troops in Iraq until 2011.