Blackwater Mercenaries Shoot Up Civilians, Police in Baghdad; License Revoked

Iraq announced on Monday it had withdrawn the license of a U.S. security firm and would prosecute employees it said were involved in a shooting in Baghdad in which 11 people were killed.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said security personnel working for contractors Blackwater had opened fire after mortar rounds landed near their cars in Nusour Square in the western Baghdad district of Mansour.

"By chance the company was passing by. They opened fire randomly at citizens," Brigadier-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said. Eleven people were killed, including one policeman, and 13 people were wounded, he said.

The U.S. military said on Sunday security contractors working for the State Department were involved in an incident, but gave no further details.

No one was immediately available to comment at Blackwater offices in North Carolina.

"We have withdrawn its license," Khalaf said, adding that the ministry had also formed a committee to investigate the incident and "deliver those who committed this act to the court."

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the shooting and vowed to punish the perpetrators and their employers.

"We will work to punish and halt the work of the security company which conducted this criminal act," state television quoted him as saying.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said security contractors "must respect Iraqi laws and the right of Iraqis to independence on their land."

"These cases have happened more than once and we can't keep silent in the face of them," he told Arabiya television.

Thousands of private security contractors, many of them American and European, have worked in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Many Iraqis believe they operate outside the law with little accountability either to the Iraqi government or U.S. military forces.

Khalaf did not say how many contractors were involved in the shooting. He said the investigating committee had gone to the scene and spoken to witnesses, and would also visit the company's compound in Baghdad.

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