September 25, 2007 / 11:01 AM / 12 years ago

Iraq ministry finishes draft law on contractors

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Interior Ministry has finished draft legislation that would end the legal immunity enjoyed by private security contractors after a deadly shooting involving U.S. firm Blackwater, an official said on Tuesday.

A private security contractor sits in the door of a helicopter as it patrols the skies over Baghdad February 6, 2005. Iraq's Interior Ministry has finished draft legislation that would end the legal immunity enjoyed by private security contractors after a deadly shooting involving U.S. firm Blackwater, an official said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Bob Strong

In fresh violence, a suicide car bomb killed three people near a police station in the southern Shi’ite city of Basra. Car bombings are rare in Basra, the hub for Iraq’s oil industry.

Two car bombs also killed six people and wounded 20 in the Zayouna district of eastern Baghdad, police and a hospital official said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf told a news conference the draft law had been submitted to the State Shura Council, a body which vets legal language in drafts before they can be passed to parliament for debate.

Iraq has said it would review the status of all security firms after what it called a flagrant assault by Blackwater contractors. Eleven people were killed while the firm was escorting a U.S. embassy convoy through Baghdad on September 16.

“This legislation will cover everything to do with these companies. The companies will come under the grip of Iraqi law, will be monitored by the Interior Ministry and will work under its guidelines,” Khalaf said.

“They will be strictly punished for any (violations) on the street.”

The shooting has incensed Iraqis who regard the tens of thousands of security contractors working in the country as private armies that act with impunity.

At issue for many Iraqis is sovereignty, given that 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 year before.

Stripping away their immunity could become a charged political issue with Washington, given that Blackwater and other major foreign security firms provide protection to numerous U.S. government bodies and reconstruction agencies.

SOFTENING STANCE

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had vowed to freeze the work of Blackwater, which guards the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and prosecute its staff over the shooting he called a crime.

Iraq has since appeared to soften its stand. The government said this week no action would be taken against Blackwater until after a joint investigation with U.S. officials.

Blackwater guards are accused of opening fire without provocation during the incident. Blackwater says its guards reacted lawfully to an attack on a U.S. convoy.

Khalaf has previously said the draft law would give the ministry powers to prosecute the companies and to refuse or revoke contracts. A number of security firms do not have the proper registration to operate in Iraq, which they blame on bureaucratic delays and obstacles.

In Basra, the city’s police chief Major-General Abdul Jalil Khalaf blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda for the car bombing there. A health official said 20 people had been hurt.

Most violence in Basra has either been directed against British forces in the region or been fighting among Shi’ite factions vying for influence.

Seeking to defuse tension between Tehran and Washington, President Jalal Talabani urged the U.S. military to release an Iranian man who was detained last week in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Slideshow (10 Images)

The U.S. military accused the man of smuggling roadside bombs into Iraq and training foreign fighters. Iranian and Iraqi officials said the man was part of a trade delegation.

“The arrest of the Iranian citizen ... is illegal,” Talabani, a Kurd, told a press conference in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya before leaving on a trip to the United States.

Kurdish officials say Iran has since closed its border with the autonomous region to protest against the detention.

Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra

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