Monday, October 8, 2007

Iraq demands $136 million from the US

(CBS/AP) Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to each of the families of 17 people killed when the firm's guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy machine gun fire last month.

The demands, part of an Iraqi government report examined by The Associated Press, also called on U.S. authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the Sept. 16 shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

CBS News has found the Iraqi witness accounts of the shootings are remarkably consistent.

They say a four-vehicle Blackwater convoy drove into a traffic circle but was blocked by barriers protecting a maintenance crew, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

The Blackwater guards threw water bottles, warning the cars to stop, but as one car continued to inch forward, Blackwater started shooting, instantly killing the driver.

The tone of the Iraqi report appears to signal further strains between the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the White House over the deaths in Nisoor Square, which have prompted a series of U.S. and Iraqi probes and raised questions over the use of private security contractors to guard U.S. diplomats and other officials.

Al-Maliki ordered the investigation by his defense minister and other top security and police officials on Sept. 22. The findings mark the most definitive Iraqi positions and contentions about the shootings last month.

The report also highlights the differences in death tolls and accounts that have complicated efforts to piece together the chain of events as one Blackwater-protected convoy raced back toward Baghdad's Green Zone after a nearby bombing, while a second back-up team in four gun trucks sped into the square as a back-up team.

The Iraqi investigation charges the four Blackwater vehicles called to the square began shooting without provocation. Blackwater contends its employees came under fire first.

The government, at the conclusion of its investigation, said 17 Iraqis died. Initial reports put the toll at 11.

It said the compensation - totaling $136 million - was so high "because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country."

The US military compensates the families of civilians killed in battle or to cover property damage, but at far lower amounts.

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