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US State, Defense Departments Tighten Rules for Security Contractors in Iraq


The U.S. Departments of State and Defense have agreed to a new system of rules designed to increase control over private security contractors working in Iraq. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

The move to tighten oversight of private contractors follows an incident last September in which guards from the Blackwater company providing security for a U.S. diplomatic convoy fired on Iraqi civilians killing 17 people.

Company officials say the guards were protecting diplomats when they came under fire, but Iraqi investigators concluded the shooting spree was unprovoked.

The shooting sparked outrage in Iraq and a joint working group was formed consisting of officials from the State and Defense Departments to review the rules of conduct for contractors.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey says the new system is designed to increase communication between State Department security agents, the U.S. military, Iraqi security forces and private contractors.

"Part of this is a simple no surprises rule. We want to make sure that any convoy that goes out is something that any military officer operating in a particular area, knows is coming, has had input into the assignment of, in terms of anything that might be happening in his area of operation that might affect the safety of our people and that we have the possibility and an ability for people, in real time, to communicate with one another because it is a war zone," he said.

Casey says U.S. diplomats and defense officials have agreed on a memorandum of understanding that includes coordination of movement, accountability and rules on the use of weapons.

"What we have looked at is making sure there is a common understanding of how and when force, in particular deadly force, should be used by personal security contractors," he said.

Casey says the new policy includes a clear training standard for security contractors and an increase in the number of Arabic speakers going out with diplomatic convoys who can communicate with Iraqis.

He says each convoy will include an officer of the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

The spokesman says the department will soon install video and audio equipment in security vehicles to record radio transmissions and incidents that might occur when a convoy is moving.

Casey says the State and Defense Departments will now have a common set of operating principles governing the policies toward private security contractors in Iraq.

"A lot of this is about improving the communications and coordination between the two sides to try and make sure we can do what everyone wants to do, which is to make sure our diplomats can carry out their important missions in Iraq, while at the same time doing so in a way that insures the safety and security of everyone involved, not only U.S. military officials but, of course, Iraqis as well," he said.

Casey says the new policy will govern how future shooting incidents are investigated and how to hold accountable any contractors who violate the rules.

The U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker and the head of the multi-national forces command in Iraq, General David Petraeus, have agreed to the new plan.