Blackwater forces were protecting a U.S. State Department convoy driving through Nisour Square in the Mansour district of western Baghdad when a bomb exploded nearby. The U.S. Embassy said the convoy also came under fire. Security contractors responded by firing on bystanders who lined the streets, leaving the area strewn with bodies, witnesses said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared Blackwater’s actions “criminal,” according to the Associated Press. In addition, an estimated 13 people were wounded.
“This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent before. Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis,” said Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, according to the New York Times.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Kharaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the government has canceled Blackwater’s operating license. He also said the security contractors would be prosecuted for their actions.
“They committed a crime. The judicial system will take action,” Kharaf said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Prime Minister Maliki and apologized, his office said.
The U.S. government is holding discussions with Iraqi authorities to get more information on what took place.
“We take this very seriously, and we are launching a full investigation in cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” Mirembe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, told the Los Angeles Times.
Hassan Jabar Salman was trying to drive away from the scene when his car was shot with 12 bullets, five of which hit him, he told Agence France-Presse from his hospital bed.
“The foreigners in the convoy started shouting and signaling us to go back. I turned around and must have driven 100 feet when they started shooting. There were eight of them in four utility vehicles and all shooting with heavy machine guns,” Salman told AFP.
Based in North Carolina, Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq. The private military and security company entered the spotlight in 2004 when four of its contractors were murdered, burned and hung in Fallujah. The families of those men are suing Blackwater, alleging it failed to ensure the safety of its employees.