BAGHDAD Private security guards escorting a convoy of four vehicles through central Baghdad shot dead two women in a car on Tuesday, the Iraqi government and police said.
There were no confirmed details about the incident or who was responsible. It came the same day the government demanded U.S. security firm Blackwater pay families of 17 people killed in a shooting last month $8 million each in compensation.
The shooting happened in the Baghdad district of Karrada. Witnesses said the women were in a car when they were shot.
"There has been an incident, an attack on civilians. Two Iraqi women were killed and an investigation is going on to find which security company it was," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The Blackwater shooting in western Baghdad last month caused outrage among Iraqis who see security contractors as private armies that act with impunity. Blackwater guards U.S. embassy staff in Iraq, among other clients in the country.
"There is no embassy connection. It's nothing to do with us," said U.S. embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo.
Shopkeeper Basim Mohammed said four or five cars were driving down the road when the shooting happened.
"An Oldsmobile came out of this side road and it had two women in the front and children in the back," he said.
"They fired a warning shot when they were about 80 meters away, which probably made them panic because they went forward a little bit, and (the security guards) started firing at her from all directions," Mohammed told Reuters television.
Video footage showed shattered glass and pools of blood on the pavement. Traffic police said the car had been towed away.
In the Blackwater case, the Iraqi government said its investigation found Blackwater guards had "deliberately killed" the 17 Iraqis.
Blackwater has said its guards responded lawfully to a hostile threat against a U.S. State Department convoy it was guarding. Dabbagh said on Sunday the Iraqi investigation had found there was no evidence they had come under fire.
Foreign security firms have immunity from Iraqi law under a 2004 regulation written while Iraq was under U.S. administration following the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
The September 16 incident sparked a larger U.S. inquiry into the operations of private contractors in Iraq, while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered tighter controls on Blackwater.
The State Department will send diplomatic security agents to accompany each convoy protected by Blackwater guards.