BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities on Wednesday accused guards working for a foreign security company of firing randomly when they killed two women in the latest incident involving private security contractors that has outraged Iraqis.
Family members held a funeral service for the two women after the shooting on Tuesday at a Baghdad intersection involving guards working for Australian-run, Dubai-based Unity Resources Group (URG).
URG said in a statement it deeply regretted the incident, in which it said a car had failed to stop despite repeated warnings.
It has not yet answered phone calls or emails to its offices in Baghdad and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi said the women were at an intersection in Baghdad’s Karrada district when four four-wheel-drive vehicles drove up in convoy.
“It opened fire randomly, hitting an Oldsmobile vehicle being driven by a woman,” Moussawi told Reuters, adding that the shooting was under investigation.
URG’s statement said its security team was approached at speed by a vehicle which did not stop despite warnings that included hand signals, signal flares and a warning shot. A witness said the guards opened fire when the car edged forward.
URG has worked in Iraq since 2004 and its security escorts typically include Iraqi guards with foreign team leaders.
The bodies of the two women, members of Iraq’s small Armenian Christian sect, were taken in simple wooden coffins to an Armenian church in central Baghdad on Wednesday.
“She was a housewife,” the brother of one of the victims, who gave his name only as Albeer, told Reuters Television.
In more violence in northern Iraq, six people were killed in a car bomb attack on a convoy carrying the security directorate chief for Salahuddin province, security officials said.
Provincial security chief Colonel Jassim Hussein Mohammed was not hurt in the attack in the provincial capital Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles), north of Baghdad, but one of his bodyguards was among those killed and another two were wounded.
The attack came a day after two suicide car bombers targeting a police chief and a tribal leader killed 22 people in the northern oil city of Baiji.
Al Qaeda has vowed to ramp up its attacks during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ends at the weekend, especially targeting security officials and Sunni Arab tribal leaders who have joined U.S. forces to fight the Sunni Islamist group.
The U.S. military said it had killed 37 militants and detained 25 suspects in a four-day operation targeting al Qaeda safe havens in the Diyala River valley north of Baghdad.
The military launched a series of offensives against the Sunni Islamist group and Shi’ite militants in Diyala over the summer to deny them bases from which to launch attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Moussawi also announced an indefinite ban on parking cars on main streets and intersections in Baghdad in a bid to thwart potential car bomb attacks in the final days of Ramadan.
Many Iraqis see private security companies as little more than private armies which act with impunity and are still angry over a September 16 shooting involving U.S. firm Blackwater in which 17 people were killed.
The Blackwater shooting brought private security contractors under the spotlight, with the incident now the subject of at least four investigations by Iraqi and U.S. officials.
“People run away from them, they are afraid to cross the street in front of them,” a Baghdad resident, who gave his name only as Qais, told Reuters Television.
The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of “deliberately killing” the 17 Iraqis in last month’s shooting in west Baghdad. A government source has said the government wants Blackwater to pay $8 million compensation to each victim’s family.
Blackwater, which employs about 1,000 people in Iraq and guards the U.S. embassy, says its guards responded lawfully to a threat against a convoy.
Additional reporting by Yasser Faisal and Ross Colvin in Baghdad