Sept. 23, 2007 — -- The shooting deaths of 11 Iraqis and wounding of 12 more, allegedly by private security contractors working for Blackwater USA, has become a case of "he says, she says" in Iraq.
Blackwater claims that the convoy of U.S. embassy officials they were escorting in western Baghdad came under attack, and they returned fire at insurgents.
The Iraqi government says Blackwater opened fire without provocation, shooting randomly at civilians in a state of uncontrolled panic. And now the Iraqis say they have a videotape, shot from a nearby police station, proving their version of the story is true.
"On the tape, there was nobody shooting at the Blackwater guards," said Gen. Hussein Kamal, Iraq's deputy minister of interior for intelligence, who has seen the videotape. "I believe they overreacted."
The Blackwater shootings have become a major source of friction between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to apologize after the Sept 16 incident, but Maliki is still furious, and on Sunday he said it was "a serious challenge to the sovereignty of Iraq," and, "cannot be accepted."
Maliki is due to meet President Bush at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday, and Blackwater is likely to be one of their main topics of discussion.
There are 20,000 to 30,000 private security contractors in Iraq guarding the U.S. embassy and other civilian agencies. There have been numerous incidents of Iraqis being shot dead by these contractors, and the private forces are widely resented across the country for their often trigger-happy behavior.
What infuriates Iraqis most is that the contractors are not subject to the Iraqi legal system, nor do they seem to fall under U.S. law. There is no record of any foreign contractor being prosecuted for the killing of an Iraqi civilian.
The United States and Iraq have set up a joint commission to find ways to make the behavior of the foreign contractors more accountable, but many Iraqis want to see some action taken against the individuals from Blackwater who were involved in the deadly shooting.
Privately U.S. diplomats and members of the U.S. military also say that Blackwater has become overly aggressive in its use of force on the streets of Baghdad, and think the company needs to be reined in.