War on Iraq

Mercenaries Working for U.S. Casually Kill Baghdad Taxi Driver

"They just killed a man and drove away."
An Iraqi taxi driver was shot and killed Saturday by a guard with DynCorp International, a private security company hired to protect US diplomats, when a DynCorp convoy rolled past a knot of traffic on an exit ramp here, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said yesterday. more stories like this

Three eyewitnesses said the taxi had posed no threat to the convoy, and one of them, an Iraqi army sergeant who inspected the car afterward, said it contained no weaponry or explosive devices.

"They just killed a man and drove away," Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said yesterday.

He added later, "We have opened an investigation, and we have contacted the company and told them about our accusations, and we are still waiting for their response."

It was the latest in a series of what the Iraqi government has said are unprovoked shootings in Baghdad by security firms hired by the State Department or contractors affiliated with it.

On Sept. 16, guards with another of those firms, Blackwater, opened fire near Saturday's shooting, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding at least 24, according to Iraqi investigators.

The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of involvement in at least six questionable shootings in Baghdad since September 2006. DynCorp has not drawn the same scrutiny, though it is unclear whether it has been involved in any other episodes in which Iraqis have been killed.

The shootings have stoked outrage among Iraqis, driven efforts to hold private security firms legally accountable for their actions in both the United States and Iraq, and created new challenges for US officials already constrained to doing much of their business within Baghdad's protected Green Zone.

Senior officials from the Pentagon and the State Department were due to arrive in Baghdad yesterday to arrange new measures to tighten control over security firms and coordinate their movements more closely with the US military.

As in several previous shootings involving security firms affiliated with the State Department, witnesses to Saturday's shooting said they saw no reason for the guards to open fire on the car, a white Hyundai with a taxi sign on the roof, driven by Mohamad Khalil Khudair, 40.

"The poor cabdriver was stopped here," said one of the witnesses, Raafat Jassim, 36, who said he was standing outside a barbershop near the exit ramp at the time. "He had his hazard lights flashing and the convoy was a long way away from him," Jassim said, pointing to a spot about 50 yards down the ramp, which comes off a bridge over the Tigris River in a neighborhood called Utafiya.

An official at the local police headquarters said that the victim's brother had insisted on pressing charges against the company and that as a result, the case had been referred to an Iraqi judge.

But legal loopholes and immunities in Iraqi and US law have raised questions about whether private security firms operating in this country can be called to account in any court.

Also yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq prodded US officials to hand over three former aides of Saddam Hussein who have been condemned for their role in a campaign that killed as many as 180,000 Kurds.

Several members of the government, including prominent Shi'ites, have urged leniency for Saddam Hussein's former minister of defense, Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai. They say he had been in contact with the country's political opposition before the 2003 war that toppled Hussein.

Hussein's Anfal campaign killed as many as 180,000 Kurds during the 1980s. Tai was condemned in June along with Ali Hassan al-Majid, Hussein's first cousin who is known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in the poison-gas killings of the Kurds, and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, the former deputy head of army operations.

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