WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. military reports from the scene of a shooting incident in Baghdad involving security contractor Blackwater indicates its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
At least 11 Iraqis were killed in the September 16 incident, which has outraged Iraqis who see the firm as a private army which acts with impunity.
Citing a senior U.S. military official, the Post said the military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.
“It was obviously excessive. It was obviously wrong,” a U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity told the newspaper.
“The civilians that were fired upon, they didn’t have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP (Iraqi police) or any of the local security forces fired back at them,” the official was quoted as saying.
The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official told the Post. He said U.S. soldiers had reviewed statements from eyewitnesses and video footage recorded at the scene.
An Iraqi Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting involving the same Blackwater guards minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square, the Post reported.
The FBI is leading a State Department investigation of the incident, which occurred as Blackwater escorted a diplomatic convoy in western Baghdad. The Pentagon and a joint U.S.-Iraqi team are also looking into the incident.
North Carolina-based Blackwater has said its guards reacted lawfully to an attack on the convoy they were protecting.
In previously unpublished remarks prepared for delivery at a congressional hearing, Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince said the Blackwater guards “came under small-arms fire” and “returned fire at threatening targets,” the Post reported.
Portions of the remarks dealing with the incident were left out of his testimony after the Justice Department warned Blackwater the incident was under investigation, it reported.
The Post did not say how they obtained these remarks.
Blackwater is also under scrutiny over other shooting incidents involving Iraqis.