BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has asked its lawyers in the United States to take on U.S. security firm Blackwater on behalf of victims shot by the company’s security guards at a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007, officials said on Monday.
Fadhil Mohammed Jawad, a legal adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said a law firm used by the Iraqi government in the United States had been asked to contact lawyers previously hired by victims of the shooting and their families to take over their cases.
“The Iraqi government will take the matter up on behalf of the families of the victims,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said at a meeting with the families and victims.
“They have rights, and the aggressor must recognize their rights and the right to compensation because this was a despicable treatment of innocent people,” Dabbagh said.
A U.S. federal judge last month threw out charges against five Blackwater guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians at the traffic circle in September 2007, saying the defendants’ constitutional rights had been violated.
The Blackwater incident came to symbolize for Iraqis what they saw as foreigners’ disregard for their lives after private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts following the 2003 U.S. invasion.
It also threw a critical light on the United States’ use of private security contractors in Iraq.
The security guards’ immunity was lifted in a bilateral agreement that came into effect from last year.
The Iraqi government called the U.S. court ruling “unacceptable and unjust.” The guards say they fired in self-defense in the incident, which occurred during some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq.
Victims and relatives who attended a meeting on Monday with the government said they welcomed its efforts on their behalf.
“I am desperate for this belated action carried out by the Iraqi government but I think our rights will not be respected because Blackwater is influential in America and Iraq,” said Eidan Abu al-Lul, who was wounded in the incident.
Sahib Naser Shamkhi, whose son was killed, said he was paid $20,000 at the time by Blackwater, which is now called Xe Services, to cover funeral costs and was persuaded to sign a document in English presented by the firm that he could not read.
“I think if the Iraqi government intervened in the case, we will reclaim the rights of our sons, who are the sons of the government, which must defend its sons,” Shamkhi said.
Editing by Michael Christie and Ralph Boulton
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