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BAGHDAD — Hundreds of private security guards who have been ordered to leave Iraq within days because of links to Blackwater Worldwide cannot appeal the order, Iraq's interior minister said Thursday.
The expulsion comes in the wake of a U.S. judge's dismissal of criminal charges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.
"We decide whether foreign security companies stay or not," Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press on Thursday, saying the decision was final and could not be appealed.
Al-Bolani announced late Wednesday that about 250 private security guards linked to Blackwater must leave the country within seven days or face possible arrest on visa violations. The order applies to about 250 security contractors who worked for Blackwater in Iraq at the time of the 2007 shooting.
Some of the guards now work for other security firms in Iraq, while others work for a Blackwater subsidiary, al-Bolani said. He said all "concerned parties" were notified of the order four days ago and have until Sunday to leave the country.
Blackwater security contractors were protecting U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a busy Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
Haider Abdul-Radha, a Baghdad resident, praised the decision to expel the guards.
"As an Iraqi citizen, it is a great step and proves Iraq's sovereignty," he said.
Backlash from the Blackwater shooting has been felt hardest by private security contractors, who typically provide protection for diplomats, journalists and aid workers. Iraqi security forces have routinely stopped security details at checkpoints to conduct searches and question guards.
Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater is now known as Xe Services, a name change that happened after six of the security firm's guards were charged in the Nisoor Square shooting. At the time, Blackwater was the largest of the State Department's three security contractors working in Iraq.
Xe Services said the company had no employees in Iraq, including with its subsidiary, Presidential Airways.
Philip Frayne, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the embassy does not keep figures on how many former Blackwater or Xe employees work in Iraq, but he noted that none of those involved in the Nisoor Square shooting were in the country.
The Blackwater guards involved in the incident said they were ambushed, but U.S. prosecutors and many Iraqis said they let loose an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.
One of the accused guards pleaded guilty in the case, but a federal judge in Washington threw out charges against the other five in December, ruling that the Justice Department for mishandling the evidence.
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