Baghdad scene was chaotic, U.S. says

Embassy's account differs from Iraq's

The Washington PostSeptember 28, 2007 

The initial U.S. Embassy report on a shooting incident Sept. 16 in Baghdad involving Blackwater USA, a private security firm, depicts an afternoon of mayhem that included a car bomb, a shootout in a crowded traffic circle, and an armed standoff between Blackwater guards and Iraqi security forces before the U.S. military intervened.

The two-page report, which a State Department official described as a "first blush" account from the scene, raises new questions about what transpired in the intersection. According to the report, the events that led to the shooting involved three Blackwater units. One of them was ambushed near the traffic circle and returned fire before fleeing, the report said. Another unit was surrounded by Iraqis and had to be extricated by the U.S. military, it added.

The report, by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, details the events as described by Blackwater guards -- details now at the center of an intense debate in Iraq and in Congress over the larger role of private security firms in Iraq.

Tens of thousands of armed, private guards operate in Iraq, protecting everything from U.S. and Iraqi officials to supply convoys. The shooting incident is being scrutinized in at least three separate investigations.

The State Department also said Thursday that Blackwater security personnel had been involved in 56 shootings while guarding U.S. diplomats in Iraq so far this year, The New York Times reported.

It was the first time the Bush administration had made such data public.

Blackwater provided security to diplomats on 1,873 convoy runs in Iraq so far this year, and its personnel fired weapons 56 times, according to a written statement by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte.

The State Department did not release comparable 2007 numbers for other security companies, but the Blackwater numbers show a far higher rate of shootings per convoy mission than were experienced in 2006 by one of the company's primary competitors, DynCorp International. DynCorp reported 10 cases in about 1,500 convoy runs last year.

Witnesses and the Iraqi government insist the Sept. 16 shooting by the private guards was unprovoked. Blackwater claims its guards only returned fire. The document makes no reference to civilian casualties. Eleven Iraqi civilians were killed and 12 wounded. The Embassy report said Blackwater sustained no casualties.

The report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, says the incident occurred shortly after noon as three Blackwater teams moved to escort a State Department official back to Baghdad's Green Zone. The official had been visiting a "financial compound" when a car bomb exploded about 25 yards outside the entrance, the report said.

Two of the Blackwater teams returned to the Green Zone with the official, who apparently was unharmed. But the third team came under fire from "8-10 persons" who "fired from multiple nearby locations, with some aggressors dressed in civilian apparel and others in Iraqi police uniforms," the report said.

According to the document, Blackwater's guards were completing written statements and the embassy's regional security officer had launched an investigation. Previous press accounts have alluded to the spot report's existence, but the full report had not been made public.

The report, which is designated sensitive but unclassified, differs significantly from the account of the Iraqi Interior Ministry and several witnesses.

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