WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has barred diplomats and civilians from leaving Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” after a shooting involving the Blackwater security firm that drew protests from Iraq and prompted investigations, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Separately, the United States and Iraq plan to conduct a joint investigation of Sunday’s incident involving Blackwater guards in which 11 people were shot dead, American officials said.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said the Blackwater guards were reacting to a car bomb that went off near an official convoy. According to other accounts, however, the Blackwater guards fired randomly after mortar rounds landed near their motorcade.
The Green Zone houses the U.S. Embassy as well as many Iraqi ministries and senior officials who are largely protected from the daily violence in other parts of the Iraqi capital.
One U.S. official said the decision to suspend civilian convoys from leaving the area was to permit a review of security procedures after the Blackwater incident.
“Basically, they did a temporary stand-down of land convoy travel outside the Green Zone because we had a terrible incident here,” he said on condition of anonymity. “One of the things that makes sense under any circumstances is to stop ... and look at our procedures.”
The official said the decision only affected non-military convoys that carry U.S. diplomats and civilian officials.
The Blackwater incident has angered Iraqis, many of whom believe that the estimated tens of thousands of private American security guards in their country act with impunity.
U.S. officials said they expect to announce the plan to conduct a joint inquiry on Wednesday, changing their initial decision to have the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security look into the incident on its own.
“We want this to be a cooperative process and, ultimately, what’s important here is that we and the Iraqis feel that we have a common set of facts to work from,” said one official.
Additionally, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed his staff to calculate the department’s use of and reliance on private security contractors and determine what rules guide contractor conduct and operations, according to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. The department was expected to gather that data by Wednesday.