U.S. Probing Private Iraqi Guards

Iraqi police officers check the body of Adil Muhsin who was shot dead by masked gunmen while fixing his car in a garage in Baghdad's Khadra neighborhood Thursday, June 9, 2005. A garage employee was also wounded in the attack.
The U.S. military is investigating 16 private American security guards for shooting at U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians during a three-hour spree last month west of Baghdad, officials said Thursday.

The Marines said the 16 Americans and three Iraqi contractors sprayed small-arms fire at Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces from their cars in Fallujah on May 28. There were no casualties.

Marines spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said Marines reported seeing gunmen in several late-model trucks fire "near civilian cars" and on military positions.

"Three hours later, another Marine observation post was fired on by gunmen from vehicles matching the description of those involved in the earlier attack," Lapan said.

U.S. forces later detained the contractors without incident and held them for three days in a military jail, but no charges have been filed. The American contractors are believed to have left Iraq, and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry is under way, the military said.

Iraq's rampant insecurity has spawned a thriving private industry comprising Iraqis and former military personnel from around the world to protect foreign contractors working on reconstruction projects, journalists and senior government officials and diplomats.

Many Iraqis resent high-profile security details who speed along highways in sport utility vehicles brandishing automatic weapons. Senior government officials, who are prime targets of militants wreaking havoc across Iraq, use private security firms.

In other recent developments:

  • Insurgents on Thursday ambushed a convoy carrying U.S. supplies near Khaldiyah, 75 miles west of Baghdad, police Sgt. Shakir Ibrahim said. Several trucks and SUVs were destroyed and there were an unspecified number of casualties. The attack was the second against a convoy transporting goods for American forces this week west of Baghdad.
  • U.S. officials confirmed last week's arrest of Mullah Mahdi, Mosul cell leader of the feared Ansar al-Sunnah terror group, which has links to al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraqi and American forces also have captured numerous foreign fighters from Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
  • Two Mahdi aides were captured Wednesday in Mosul, said Asso Mamand, an official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
  • Gunmen killed former Baath Party member Kamil al-Nouri near his grocery store in Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City late Wednesday, police Maj. Hussein Jadou'a said. Al-Nouri was one of 10 Iraqis announced killed Wednesday across the country.
  • British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and a high-level European Union delegation visited Baghdad, and Straw called on Europe to put aside its divisions over the Iraq war and help the country rebuild. "Yes, the Iraq war did divide Europe," Straw said. "Now there is a new spirit around to put the past behind us to work for this new future for Iraq." The EU trip came ahead of a June 22 international conference on Iraq that will be held in Belgium. More than 80 countries and international organizations have been invited to the one-day session. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also expected to attend.