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Deaths in Iraq Lead to Calls for More Controls Over Private Guards Working for US

Blackwater USA and other companies employed by American agencies face greater attention after shootings of civilians. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Recent shootings of civilians have brought new attention to security companies working in Iraq for the United States government. Private guards help protect diplomats, aid groups and even American forces.

On Tuesday, guards from an Australian-owned company, Unity Resources Group, killed two women in a car in Baghdad. They say the car failed to stop after warnings.

Earlier, the Iraqi government urged American officials to cut ties with Blackwater USA. Blackwater is the largest of three American companies protecting American diplomats in Iraq.

Its guards were involved in a September sixteenth shooting in Baghdad. Blackwater says they had come under gunfire. But Iraqi officials say they fired at civilians without cause and killed seventeen people.

The Iraqis say the guards should face trial. And they say Blackwater should pay eight million dollars to each of the families of those killed.

Blackwater has about one thousand employees in Iraq. The total number of private guards being used there is estimated at twenty thousand to thirty thousand. But the International Peace Operations Association in Washington, a trade group, says most are Iraqis or other non-Americans.

The State Department says it has to use private guards because it does not have enough diplomatic security agents to meet expanding responsibilities in Iraq. It ordered stronger controls on Blackwater last week, including video cameras for its vehicles.

The shooting is still under investigation by the American military, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a joint committee of American and Iraqi officials. But in Washington, the Center for Constitutional Rights brought a federal case Thursday against Blackwater. The group is seeking damages for one survivor and the families of three of those killed.

United Nations officials in Iraq told the Associated Press they are concerned about reports of killings by security contractors. A U.N. human rights officer said officials will look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have taken place.

All government contractors would have to answer to American courts under a bill passed last week by the House of Representatives. It would expand a current act for Defense Department contractors outside the United States. The Bush administration opposes the bill, saying it could harm national security activities.

A House committee report said Blackwater has been involved in at least one hundred ninety-five shootings in Iraq since two thousand five. It said Blackwater guards fired first in most cases.

But Erik Prince, who started Blackwater ten years ago, defended his company at a congressional hearing last week. He says it performs only defensive security duties. He says he has lost thirty men while no one protected by Blackwater has ever been seriously injured. And he says private contractors have provided support to the American military since the Revolutionary War.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.