2 women die as foreigners fire on car

Iraqi government angered at guards from Dubai company

October 10, 2007|By Tina Susman and Christian Berthelsen | Tina Susman and Christian Berthelsen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Guards from a private security company opened fire yesterday on a car that they said ignored commands to stop, killing two women and unleashing new Iraqi rage toward the convoys that protect many foreigners here.

The shootings in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood, less than a month after Blackwater USA guards were accused of shooting to death as many as 17 Iraqis in the capital, brought an immediate response.

"The Iraqi government is about to take strict measures to safeguard the lives of our people," said the government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, who said no country should permit companies to "mess around" on its territory.

Salih al-Fyad, an Iraqi lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, said the shooting would make it harder for the government to accept the continued operations of foreign security companies in Iraq.

"I think the Iraqi government will have clear and specific demands regarding the work of these companies," he said. "The demands are increasing to lift the immunities and hold these companies accountable."

A spokesman for Unity Resources Group, a security company whose head office is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said its guards were involved in yesterday's shooting. The spokesman, Michael Priddin, said United Resources, which has operated in Iraq since 2004, would work with Iraqi authorities "to find out the exact facts behind the incident."

A company statement said the shooting occurred after a car failed to heed warnings to stop approaching a Unity convoy.

"The first information that we have is that our security team was approached at speed by a vehicle which failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and a signal flare. Finally, shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped," the company said in a statement.

The company is run by former Australian Army personnel and was investigated last year in the shooting of an agriculture professor, according to Australian media. The Australian Foreign Ministry at the time said the professor, Kays Juma, 72, was shot because his vehicle failed to stop at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Some witnesses agreed that a flare was fired yesterday, but at least two said guards fired into the vehicle after it had been partially disabled by warning shots. One witness said the car, which carried at least three women and a child, had rolled to a halt when the women inside were shot.

The incident was likely to heighten pressure on the Iraqi government to crack down on private security details. The Blackwater guards have been accused of firing without cause Sept. 16, and al-Maliki has said the company is unfit to operate in Iraq.

The Associated Press identified the victims as Marou Awanis, 48, and Geneva Jalal, 30.

Meanwhile, two suicide car bombs targeting a police chief and a tribal leader who worked with U.S. and anti-insurgent Iraqi forces killed at least 22 people in northern Iraq yesterday.

They were among 40 Iraqis killed in a wave of violence that coincided with insurgent threats to step up violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Police said yesterday that they also found the bodies of eight people believed to be victims of sectarian murders in Baghdad.

The worst attacks came in Baiji, 125 miles north of Baghdad, and occurred minutes apart. The first bomb targeted the police commander's house. The other bomb went off a few hundred feet away at the home of the local leader of an alliance of tribal sheiks opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq.

It was not immediately clear whether the police chief and sheik were among the dead.

Police put the death toll at 22; U.S. military officials said their initial reports were that seven people had died.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack in Baiji, but suspicion fell on al-Qaida in Iraq.

Tina Susman and Christian Berthelsen write for the Los Angeles Times.

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