April 5, 2008 in Nation/World

State Department renews contract with Blackwater

Dana Hedgpeth Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – The State Department said Friday that it will renew its contract with Blackwater Worldwide, the contractor under investigation in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians, to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad for another year. Blackwater has a five-year contract to provide diplomatic security.

The contract, which has one base year plus four option years, is entering its fourth year, an official at the State Department said.

The FBI is investigating the company, based in Moyock, N.C., in connection with a Sept. 16 incident in which its security personnel shot and killed 17 civilians in Baghdad. Questions have been raised about whether the shootings were justified and if they violated the rules in effect for contractors to use deadly force in Iraq.

Blackwater has received more than $1 billion in federal business since 2000, according to Eagle Eye, a company that monitors contract spending.

Its agreement to provide security for U.S. diplomats and serve as bodyguards and armed drivers to escort government officials outside Baghdad’s Green Zone was set to expire next month.

Gregory Starr, acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said the investigation could change the deal with Blackwater.

“We can terminate contracts for the convenience of the government if we have to,” he said. “If that was the decision, we could terminate the contract. The results of that will come, and then we will make a decision of how to proceed.”

Iraqi officials have called for Blackwater’s ouster. State and Defense Department officials have put in place more stringent oversight of private security contractors, such as coordinating their movements with the military and making sure they are clear on the rules of engagement, an official with the State Department said.

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