BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded yesterday that the U.S. Embassy replace the private security company Blackwater USA after a shootout last weekend reportedly left 11 Iraqis dead.
"This crime has inflamed contempt, hatred and anger, both from the government and the Iraqi public. Hence, it is important that this company's activities be frozen and the American Embassy invest in the services of another one," al-Maliki said. "According to the Ministry of Interior, this is the seventh time that this company has been responsible for similar actions."
Al-Maliki said the Iraqi government's preliminary investigation had found that the Blackwater security detail had fired without provocation Sunday at a traffic circle in Baghdad. The number of dead has risen from eight to 11, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf.
Al-Maliki said his government is seeking resolution through a new joint U.S.-Iraqi committee with the help of the U.S. military and Iraqi army, which are investigating the shooting.
"This company should be punished," he said. "We are not going to allow it to kill Iraqis in cold blood."
The committee also will address the status of foreign private security contractors, who enjoy immunity from Iraqi courts based on a decree issued in 2004 by then-U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III, al-Maliki said.
"We are working very closely with our Iraqi counterparts to find a solution to this problem, which has come up in the past," said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo. The Blackwater guards involved in the shooting were cooperating with the investigation and had not left Iraq, she added.
After the shooting of a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi in December, a Blackwater employee believed to have been involved was whisked out of Iraq by the company.
Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times.