BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq insisted on Monday that US private security firm Blackwater and "other companies who commit crimes" leave Iraq after its guards opened fire in Baghdad a month ago killing up to 17 civilians.
"From the beginning, the government wanted to replace this company after the incident," Sami al-Askari, adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, told AFP.
US State Department officials in Iraq, who employ Blackwater as their guards, had however asked that an investigation be held into the September 16 incident before any decision was taken, he added.
"Now after the investigations are almost completed, at least by the Iraqi side, and it has been proved definitely that the shooting of civilians was unjustifiable and brutal, the Iraqi position has become firmer," Askari said.
This was more so especially after an American officer at the scene had testified that Blackwater guards opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square "unjustifiably," he said.
"Now the position of the government is clear that this company should be replaced. We also demanded other companies who commit crimes..." be treated in the same way.
Askari added that the Baghdad government had demanded that Blackwater be out of the country within six months. "This is the ultimate period."
The Americans had accepted this, he said.
"They are waiting their investigations to finish but basically they don't have a problem (to terminate the contract of the company). But as they have more than one investigative committee, they are awaiting the outcome before making a final decision."
Askari said Iraq had demanded that Blackwater pay eight million dollars to the families of each victim as compensation.
"This is an international standard when crimes are committed or civilians killed in this way. Compensation is paid when such incidents occur in America or Europe."
US Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo declined to comment on the demands, saying they were being discussed by a joint commission of Iraqi and US officials inquiring into the issue of private security firms in Iraq.
"These matters are being discussed by the joint commission. We are not pre-judging this issue," Nantongo told a news conference in Baghdad on Monday.
Before the dust had time to settle on the Blackwater incident, the row deepened when a woman taxi driver mistakenly got too close to a security convoy in Baghdad's Karrada district and came under immediate gunfire from guards employed by another company.
The driver and her female passenger died of shots to the head and a second woman passenger and a child were wounded in the October 9 incident.
The car was riddled with bullets and witnesses described barrages of gunfire before the convoy of Dubai-based Unity Resources Group (URG), which says its staff feared a suicide attack, sped off.
Since the Blackwater incident, the Iraqi government has drafted a law that would regulate the activities of private security contractors.
Blackwater, one of the biggest security firms working in Iraq with around 1,000 staff, is employed to protect US government personnel.
It maintains that its men were legitimately responding to an ambush while escorting a state department convoy.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has since tightened control over the firm's operations in Iraq, while her department has ceded the lead role in an investigation into Blackwater to the FBI.
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