December 7, 2008
Five employees of the US security firm Blackwater charged over the 2007 fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis are expected to surrender to US authorities.
Contracted to defend US diplomats, the firm says its guards acted in self-defence when they opened fire after being ambushed by Baghdad insurgents.
Details of the charges are expected to be made public on Monday, with reports saying the men will surrender in Utah.
The Iraqi government has welcomed the move to hold “criminals accountable”.
The killings have become a central issue in Iraq’s relationship with the US.
Although the indictment was made in Washington, Associated Press reported that the men would surrender to the FBI in Utah, the home state of one of the five guards.
Haythem Ahmed al-Rubaie, who lost his wife and son in the shooting, said he had not even received an apology.
He has rejected a compensation offer of $10,000 (Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£6,780) from the US.
“They killed my wife and my son and other innocent people. What did they do for them? Did they apologise?”
Witnesses and family members maintain that the shooting was unprovoked.
Mohammed al-Kinana, who lost his son in the shooting, said: “Those men, they just kept shooting and shooting.
“They shot in all directions. At the trees. At the police hut. They kept shooting at the first car until it burst into flames.”
Mohammed Osama, 17, lost his father in the shooting. He believes the five guards being indicted should be executed.
“They need to get the harshest possible punishment,” he said.
Police in Nisour Square, in the upmarket Baghdad suburb where the shooting happened, speak with disdain at the mention of Blackwater, one saying that he is concerned for the lives of Iraqis while they continue to be in Iraq.
The shooting began to redefine the relationship between Iraq and the US, says the BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley in Baghdad.
It was a symbolic part of negotiations on when and how US forces should leave Iraq.
At the weekend, the top US military commander, General Raymond Odierno, told his troops that all Iraqis must be treated with “the utmost honour and dignity”.
While the exact charges remain unclear, the US justice department has been considering manslaughter and assault charges against the guards for weeks.
The New York Times has previously reported that an FBI investigation had concluded that 14 of the deaths at the busy Baghdad intersection on 16 September 2007 were unjustified.
Young children were among the victims.
A sixth Blackwater employee is negotiating a plea deal in return for testifying against his colleagues, AP reported, adding that the indicted men are decorated military veterans.
The problem of private armed guards in Iraq remains unresolved, mainly because they continue to provide security for the many American and other foreign officials in the country.
American law is unclear on whether contractors can be charged in the US or anywhere else for crimes committed overseas.
In October 2007, the Iraqi government approved a draft law revoking the immunity from prosecution that private security contractors enjoyed under Iraqi law.
The US has since put in place new guidelines for security contractors.
Based at a vast ranch complex in North Carolina, Blackwater is one of the main private providers of security within Iraq, and its contract there was extended in April.
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