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US: State Dept. Tallies 56 Shootings Involving Blackwater on Diplomatic Guard Duty

by James RisenNY Times
September 28th, 2007

The State Department said Thursday that Blackwater USA security personnel had been involved in 56 shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq so far this year. It was the first time the Bush administration had made such data public.

Blackwater, a large, privately held security contractor based in North Carolina, provided security to diplomats on 1,873 convoy runs in Iraq so far this year, and its personnel fired weapons 56 times, according to a written statement by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte.

The State Department did not release comparable 2007 numbers for other security companies, but the new Blackwater numbers show a far higher rate of shootings per convoy mission than were experienced in 2006 by one of the company's primary competitors, DynCorp International. DynCorp reported 10 cases in about 1,500 convoy runs last year.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Blackwater's rate of shootings was at least twice as high as the rates for other companies providing similar services to the State Department in Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked Mr. Negroponte to oversee the department's response to problems with security contractors.

A government official who was briefed on an hourlong meeting involving State Department officials on Thursday morning said that Ms. Rice had appeared surprised at the report that Blackwater had been involved in a higher rate of shootings than its competitors.

"She needs to be convinced that Blackwater's hands are clean," the government official said. Ms. Rice was also said to be taken aback by pressure from Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who issued an angry letter to her this week complaining about what he saw as the State Department's efforts to block his panel's investigation into Blackwater.

The meeting on Thursday with Ms. Rice seems to signal that the State Department's leaders now recognize that the Blackwater issue is more serious than they had first thought, and that it may become harder for the Bush administration to defend Blackwater and allow the company to retain its prominent role in providing diplomatic security in Iraq.

Since the Sept. 16 shooting in the streets of Baghdad involving an American convoy guarded by Blackwater that left at least eight Iraqis dead, the Bush administration has fended off public demands by the Iraqi government for Blackwater to be evicted from the country.

Instead, the administration has said that it will conduct an investigation jointly with the Iraqis into the shooting, while American government officials have repeatedly indicated that they do not believe that the White House or the State Department would force Blackwater out of the contract.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that it had sent a team to Iraq to investigate the role of security contractors there, in what appeared to be an effort to put private contractors under greater control by the United States military. The State Department quickly joined the Pentagon, and said that it would also send a team to review the role of contractors in Iraq.

Separately, a new study issued Thursday by Mr. Waxman's oversight committee was highly critical of the company's performance in a 2004 case in which four Blackwater contractors were killed in the restive Anbar Province city of Falluja. The committee concluded that witness accounts and investigative reports conflicted with Blackwater's assertion that its contractors had been sent to Falluja "with sufficient preparation and equipment."

In a statement, Blackwater said that the committee's report was "a one-sided version of this tragic incident."

"What the report fails to acknowledge is that the terrorists determined what happened that fateful day in 2004," Blackwater said. "The terrorists were intent on killing Americans and desecrating their bodies."




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