- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opening fire against civilians without provocation in an incident last week in which 11 persons died, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday. He said the case has been referred to the Iraqi judiciary.

Iraq’s president, meanwhile, demanded that the Americans release an Iranian arrested last week on suspicion of smuggling weapons to Shi’ite militias. The demand adds new strains to U.S.-Iraqi relations days before a meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Iraqi authorities had completed an investigation into the Sept. 20 shooting in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad and concluded that Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths.

He said the conclusion was based on witness statements as well as videotape shot by cameras at the nearby headquarters of the national police command. He said that eight persons were killed at the scene and that three of the 15 wounded died in hospitals.

Blackwater, which provides most of the security for U.S. diplomats and civilian officials in Iraq, has insisted that its guards came under fire from armed insurgents and shot back only to defend themselves.

Gen. Khalaf also said the ministry was looking into six other fatal shootings involving the Moyock, N.C.-based company, including a Feb. 7 incident outside Iraqi state television in Baghdad in which three building guards were fatally shot.

Gen. Khalaf said the report has been “sent to the judiciary,” although he would not specify whether that amounted to filing of criminal charges. Under Iraqi law, an investigating judge reviews criminal complaints and decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

Mr. al-Maliki, who arrived in New York on Friday for the U.N. General Assembly session, met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday. He is expected to raise the issue with Mr. Bush during a meeting tomorrow.

It is doubtful that foreign security contractors could be prosecuted under Iraqi law. A senior aide to Mr. al-Maliki said Friday that three of the Blackwater guards were Iraqis and could be subject to prosecution.

Adding to the strains in relations, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani demanded the immediate release of an Iranian official detained Thursday by U.S. forces in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

The U.S. military said the unidentified Iranian was a member of the Quds force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards accused of arming and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

A statement issued yesterday by Mr. Talabani’s office said the arrest was carried out without the prior knowledge or the cooperation of the Kurdish regional government.

“This amounts to an insult and a violation of its rights and authority,” said the statement, quoting a letter Mr. Talabani sent to Gen. David Petraeus, the chief U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, said Iran has threatened to close the border with the Kurdish region if the official is not freed — a serious blow to the economy in the president’s political stronghold.

“I want to express to you our dismay over the arrest by American forces of this official civilian Iranian guest,” Mr. Talabani wrote to Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military announced the death of two more U.S. soldiers — one of an unspecified noncombat-related injury and another in a vehicle accident in Diyala province.

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