September 26, 2007 / 7:43 PM / in 10 years

Pentagon investigates contractor oversight in Iraq

By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON, Sept 26 (Reuters) - The Pentagon is investigating the oversight of security contractors it employs in Iraq after a fatal shooting incident in Baghdad involving other contractors employed by the State Department.

Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had sent a five-person team to Iraq to review the contractors’ operations.

"He (Gates) does have some concern about accountability and oversight," Morrell said. He said military commanders may have the authority to police the contractors but may not have the resources to do so.

"It’s one thing to have the authorities. It’s another thing to have the resources to execute them," he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England had also ordered commanders to collect copies of contractors’ standard operating procedures and guidance on the use of deadly force to ensure they conform with U.S. rules.

The State Department is investigating a shooting incident earlier this month in which 11 people were killed while contractors from the U.S. firm Blackwater were escorting an embassy convoy through Baghdad.

Those contractors worked for the State Department. The Pentagon employs 7,300 security contractors in Iraq, but none of them are from Blackwater.

Iraq has said it would review the status of all security firms after the Blackwater shooting incident, which incensed Iraqis who see the tens of thousands of private security contractors as private armies that act with impunity.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry also finished draft legislation to strip contractors of their legal immunity from Iraqi law.

Morrell would not speculate on the impact of that law, if approved. But he rejected suggestions that security contractors in Iraq operate without oversight.

"We have the means to go after them through the Department of Justice. We have the means to go after them through military courts. Just because there has not been a prosecution brought does not mean that the authority does not exist to deal with people who misbehave or break the law," he said.

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