Iraqi driver killed by private U.S. contractor, security ministry says

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi taxi driver was shot and killed Saturday by a guard with DynCorp International, a private security company hired to protect U.S. diplomats here, when a DynCorp convoy rolled past a knot of traffic on an exit ramp here, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said yesterday.

Three eyewitnesses said the taxi had posed no threat to the convoy, and one of them, an Iraqi army sergeant who inspected the car afterward, said it contained no weaponry or explosive devices.

"They just killed a man and drove away," Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said in his office yesterday afternoon. He added later, "We have opened an investigation, and we have contacted the company and told them about our accusations, and we are still waiting for their response."

It was the latest in a series of what the Iraqi government has said are unprovoked shootings in Baghdad by security firms hired by the State Department or contractors affiliated with it. On Sept. 16, guards with another of those firms, Blackwater, opened fire a few miles south of Saturday's shooting, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding at least 24, according to Iraqi investigators.

The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of involvement in at least six questionable shootings in Baghdad since September 2006. DynCorp has not drawn the same scrutiny, though it is unclear whether it has been involved in any other episodes in which Iraqis have been killed.

The shootings have stoked outrage among Iraqis, driven efforts to hold private security firms legally accountable for their actions in both the United States and Iraq and created new challenges for U.S. officials already constrained to doing much of their business within Baghdad's protected Green Zone.

As in several previous shootings involving security firms affiliated with the State Department, witnesses to Saturday's shooting said they saw no reason for the guards to open fire on the car, a white Hyundai with a taxi sign on the roof, driven by Mohamad Khalil Khudair, 40.

An official at the local police headquarters said that the victim's brother had insisted on pressing charges against the company and that as a result, the case had been referred to an Iraqi judge. But legal loopholes and immunities in Iraqi and U.S. law have raised questions about whether private security firms operating in this country can be called to account in any court.

Both the State Department and DynCorp confirmed that there had been a shooting involving one of the company's convoys on Saturday. Possibly because the convoy sped away from the scene after the shooting, neither the company nor the State Department could immediately confirm that Khudair had been killed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday that suicide attacks and other bombings in the Iraqi capital have dropped drastically since last year's high, calling it a sign of the end of sectarian violence.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces south of the capital, said he believes the drop is sustainable. Al-Maliki said "terrorist acts" including car bombings and other spectacular, al-Qaida-style attacks dropped by 77 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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