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Blackwater Iraq contract to be renewed

  • Story Highlights
  • Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 people in disputed incident
  • FBI investigating Blackwater; contract will be reviewed afterward
  • Contractors protect diplomats, reconstruction workers, government officials
  • Security contractors have immunity from Iraqi law

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From Elise Labott
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department will renew its contract with Blackwater to provide security in Iraq, Greg Starr, acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said Friday.


An woman passes a burnt car in a Baghdad neighborhood where Blackwater guards killed 17 in September.

No provisions have been added to the contract, Starr said, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered several changes to procedure after a September incident in which Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 people, including women and children.

The incident placed the operations of Blackwater and other security firms under scrutiny in Iraq, where an estimated 25,000 private contractors protect diplomats, reconstruction workers and government officials. Under a provision instituted in the early days of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, security contractors have immunity from Iraqi law.

The five-year State Department contract, which began in 2006, must be renewed every year and is up for renewal next month. Starr said, in effect, Blackwater's contract will roll over for another year.

Blackwater is one of three contractors working under a "task order" to provide security services in Iraq. The other two are Triple Canopy and DynCorp.

An agreement, or memorandum of understanding, between the State Department and U.S. military calls for a higher level of coordination and supervision of contractors, Starr said.

Blackwater still has to work under the rules of the Iraqi government, he said.

The FBI is in charge of the U.S. investigation of the September incident, in which survivors and victims' family members said Blackwater guards started shooting unprovoked.

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Blackwater said its employees were returning fire after coming under attack from armed insurgents, but an Iraqi investigation called the killings "premeditated murder."

Starr said the U.S. government, in particular U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, will take a close look at the FBI's investigation report and then "decide whether it is consistent with U.S. goals and policies to continue the contract."

He said it will be important to see whether the FBI finds Blackwater itself criminally responsible, or merely a few of its employees.

"We can terminate contracts for the convenience of the government if we have to," he said. "I am not going to prejudge what the FBI is going to find in its investigation. It's complex. I think the U.S. government needs protective services."

Starr said he did have some concern about the reaction of the Iraqi government and people. But he noted that there have been only three additional "escalation of forces" incidents since the new rules of engagement.

"I am up to this point very satisfied with the changes we have seen," he said. "Essentially I think they do a very good job. The September 16 incident was a tragedy, it needs to be investigated carefully. The results of that will come out of that eventually and we will decide how we will proceed."

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined to comment, referring all questions to the State Department. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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