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More military control over Blackwater eyed

Dec. 5, 2007 - 04:47PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 5, 2007 - 04:47PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — The military would have more control over Blackwater and other private security contractors working in Iraq under a new agreement between the Pentagon and State Department, officials said Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON — The military would have more control over Blackwater and other private security contractors working in Iraq under a new agreement between the Pentagon and State Department, officials said Wednesday.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said a meeting to complete the agreement was scheduled Wednesday between Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, whose department uses Blackwater to guard its diplomats.

The move to tighten military oversight followed Iraqi outrage over a Sept. 16 shooting in which 17 Iraq civilians were killed in a Baghdad square. Blackwater Worldwide said its guards were protecting diplomats under attack before they opened fire, but Iraqi investigators concluded the shooting spree was unprovoked.

U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq later complained that they often do not know security firms are moving through their areas of responsibility until after some incident has taken place.

The new accord is to include rules for coordinating movement of the civilian security convoys and the reporting and investigation of any incident they're involved in, as well as the question of when they are allowed to use force, Whitman said.

There has been a string of repercussions since the September shootings by the North Carolina-based Blackwater:

* Iraqis have threatened to expel the firm and have demanded the right to prosecute contractors.

* A U.S. federal grand jury is investigating whether criminal charges are warranted.

* Blackwater chairman Erik Prince was called before Congress and asserted his employees had "acted appropriately at all times," vigorously rejecting charges that guards from his firm acted as if they were immune to legal prosecution.

* Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, resigned just one day after a State Department study found serious lapses in the department's oversight of private guards.

In a meeting at the end of October, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and reached a general understanding that more military control was needed over security firms operating in the war zone.

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