January 2, 2010 in Nation/World

Blackwater dismissal angers Iraqis

Private contractors charged in deadly 2007 shooting
Rebecca Santana Associated Press
 

BAGHDAD – Iraqis seeking justice for 17 people shot dead at a Baghdad intersection responded with bitterness and outrage Friday at a U.S. judge’s decision to throw out a case against a Blackwater security team accused in the killings.

The Iraqi government vowed to pursue the case, which became a source of contention between the U.S. and Iraq. Many Iraqis also held up the judge’s decision as proof of what they’d long believed: U.S. security contractors were above the law.

“There is no justice,” said Bura Sadoun Ismael, who was wounded by two bullets and shrapnel during the shooting. “I expected the American court would side with the Blackwater security guards who committed a massacre in Nisoor Square.”

What happened on Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007, raised Iraqi concerns about their sovereignty because Iraqi officials were powerless to do anything to the Blackwater employees who had immunity from local prosecution. The shootings also highlighted the degree to which the U.S. relied on private contractors in Iraq.

Blackwater had been hired by the State Department to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The guards said they were ambushed at a busy intersection in western Baghdad, but U.S. prosecutors and many Iraqis said the Blackwater guards let loose an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.

The shootings led the Iraqi government to strip the North Carolina-based company of its license to work in the country, and Blackwater replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.

Five guards from the company were charged in the case with manslaughter and weapons violations. But a federal judge Friday dismissed all the charges.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina cited repeated government missteps in the investigation, saying that prosecutors built their case on sworn statements that the guards had given with the idea that they would be immune from prosecution.

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