WASHINGTON (AFP) — President George W. Bush said Thursday he was saddened by the loss of life when private security contractors opened fire in Baghdad and said he was awaiting results of a probe into the deaths.
"Let's find out what the facts are first," Bush said in a White House news conference when asked about the killings. They happened Sunday when shooting broke out in a Baghdad neighborhood where Blackwater security contractors were present.
"Evidently some innocent lives were lost. And my thoughts and prayers go out to the families," he said. "But I want to find out the facts about exactly what took place there in the theater.
Blackwater contractors opened fire, killing 10 people and wounding 13. Iraqis say that civilians were killed, while Blackwater insists the it was guarding convoy came under attack from insurgents.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded that Blackwater be replaced for the security duties. The firm provides guards for US officials and civilian employees in the war-torn country.
The United States has promised to investigate the deaths and along with Iraq announced Wednesday it had also set up a joint commission to gather the facts about the shooting and make policy recommendations on security in Iraq.
"The folks like Blackwater who provide security for the State Department are under rules of engagement. In other words, they have certain rules. And this commission will determine whether or not they violated those rules," Bush said.
He said he expected to discuss it when he meets with Maliki in New York next week at the United Nations general assembly.
The shooting deaths came amid keen debate in Washington over the future of US strategy in Iraq, with critics demanding that US troops be withdrawn.
Bush has vowed to stay the course but also reiterated Thursday his frustration with what he sees as a lack of political and legislative progress by Iraq's fragile government to reconcile and stabilize the country.
"People are sick and tired of murder and violence, and ... they expect their local governments and their central government to be more responsive to their needs," he said, citing comments made to him by reconstruction teams in Iraq.
"Clearly, there needs to be work there ... There needs to be the passage of law," he added.
"For example, we strongly believe that an oil revenue sharing law will send a message to Sunni, Shia and Kurd alike that there is an effort at the national level to achieve reconciliation."
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