U.S., Iraqis Review Blackwater Operations

A joint U.S.-Iraqi commission reviewing American security operations after a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians allegedly at the hands of Blackwater USA guards met for the first time on Sunday, the U.S. embassy said.

The joint commission, chaired by Iraq's defense minister and the American embassy's No. 2 diplomat, expressed "mutual commitment of the Iraqi government and the U.S. government to work together to evaluate issues of safety and security related to personal security detail operations in Iraq," the brief embassy statement said.

The commission is expected to issue recommendations to both Baghdad and Washington on improving Iraqi and U.S. security procedures, with the "goal of ensuring that personal security detail operations do not endanger public safety" and prevent similar incidents in the future.

It is one of at least three investigations into the Sept. 16 shooting in which Blackwater guards are accused of opening fire on Iraqi civilians in a main square in Baghdad. The Moyock, N.C.-based security company contends its employees came under fire first, but the Iraqi government and witnesses dispute that.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times published an Op-Ed by a former U.S. official in Iraq who witnessed Blackwater operatives' brazen disregard for the safety of civilians, even children and the elderly. Janessa Gans, who was in Iraq from 2003, to 2005, wrote of her Blackwater driver careening through the streets and intentionally smashing a slower car driven by an older Iraqi man with a woman and three children off the road and into a barrier.

When she complained, her driver remarked that he has been trained to view anyone as a potential threat: "Terrorists could be disguised as anyone."

"Well, if they weren't terrorists before, they certainly are now," she replied.

A former Army captain hired by Blackwater to serve as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. State Department in Iraq will take a break from his position to seek the Republican nomination for Congress in Indiana's 2nd District (a seat now held by Democrat Joe Donnelly).

Thirty-nine-year-old Chris Minor of Kokomo said he can't discuss Blackwater or the general use of contractors in Iraq; the terms of his contract with the company prevent him from speaking publicly about it.

Bombings Claim Nine Lives

Sunday's attacks in Baghdad started with an early morning explosion near a minibus carrying workers into central Baghdad. Three people were killed and four wounded in roadside bombing, which apparently targeted a police patrol, according to a police official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The inside of the mangled minibus was soaked in blood, the metal hulk was pummeled by shrapnel and the windows were shattered, according to AP Television News footage.

A half-hour later, in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, a second roadside bomb targeting a U.S. patrol missed its target, killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding three others, police said.

And in the downtown commercial area of Salihiyah, a bomb planted in the back of a car parked near the Iranian Embassy exploded about 8:30 a.m., killing three Iraqi passers-by and wounding five others, according to police.

In Other Developments:

  • Two of Iraq's most powerful Shiite leaders agreed Saturday to end a bitter rivalry that has led to armed clashes in Baghdad and across the oil-rich south. Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim have promised to "protect Iraqi blood and enhance cooperation between the two movements for the Islamic and national interests and to save the nation."
  •  On Sunday, five crossing points in Kurdish-run northern Iraq - closed last month by Iran to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian - were expected to reopen. By midday Sunday, at least one border point, about 80 miles from the northern city of Sulaimaniya, remained closed. About 300 Iraqi freight trucks were parked and hundreds more waited on the Iranian side. The U.S. military said the Iranian taken into custody Sept. 20 was a member of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards alleged to smuggle weapons to Shiite extremists. The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to release the man.
  •  Also Sunday, the leader of the self-governing Kurdish region spoke out in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal about new oil agreements with several international companies. The central government in Baghdad is upset about the deals, saying the Kurds should wait until the passage of a national oil law before signing any new contracts. But Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said the deals were "not an attempt to usurp the nation's oil resources" but rather to make "these valuable resources work for the people of Iraq." He said the Kurdish regional government has signed eight production-sharing contracts with international oil and gas companies since enacting its own law governing foreign oil investments in August and expected to sign two more "in the near future."
  •  Three suspected Shiite militia fighters believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of five British security contractors have been captured in a pre-dawn raid in Sadr City, the U.S. military said Sunday. The men, associated with a splinter group of the Mahdi Army believed to be backed by Iran, were detained Saturday, the military said, adding no shots were fired by U.S. forces during the raid. The four British security guards and a computer expert were abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry on May 29 by some 40 heavily armed men wearing police uniforms who took them in the direction of Baghdad's sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City. Four of the Britons were employed by Montreal-based security company GardaWorld and the fifth worked for McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint. Gen. David Petraeus said in June there have been several failed operations to rescue the hostages.