Iraqi officials took a hard line Tuesday on alleged abuses by foreign security contractors, saying criminal charges would be filed in the...
BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials took a hard line Tuesday on alleged abuses by foreign security contractors, saying criminal charges would be filed in the nonfatal shooting of a woman Monday as a guarded convoy carrying laborers passed by.
“We will no longer be easy on this,” said Qassim Atta, spokesman for Iraqi security forces in the capital.
A home video of the incident that circulated in Baghdad on Tuesday dramatized the anger many Iraqis harbor against private security contractors.
Critics charge that private guards often travel through the city at excessive speeds and at times fire indiscriminately at vehicles that might not pose a threat to their convoys.
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The jerky video image, apparently taken from the bed of a truck that was transporting workers, shows a swarm of angry bystanders being kept at bay by warning shots from an Iraqi soldier who had arrived on the scene.
About a dozen people lay in the truck bed cowering under blankets and suitcases as three soldiers stood over them.
One soldier struck at several of the laborers with a stick as voices in the crowd urged him on.
Iraqi forces arrested 43 people who had been traveling in the convoy, including laborers and security personnel.
The detainees were two Fijians, 10 Iraqis, 21 Sri Lankans, one Indian and nine Nepalese, the U.S. military said Monday.
Despite the apparent evidence that most of the 43 people who were detained in the shooting were unarmed, Atta said none would be released until the investigation is complete.
Atta did not clarify whether the detainees were being held as suspects or witnesses.
However, he said those responsible for the shooting would be turned over to Iraqi courts for prosecution and the others would be released. He could not say when that would occur.
“We are now interrogating the members of the company to find out who did the shooting and we will hand him to the judicial courts,” Atta said.
The charges would be driving on the wrong side of the street, shooting randomly at civilians and injuring one, Atta said.
The U.S. military said it was working with Iraqi forces to provide support, but was not involved in the investigation.
“It is up to the government of Iraq to determine what charges, if any, will be filed,” the military said in a statement Tuesday.
Attempts to prosecute could prove problematic because Iraqi law currently grants immunity to foreign contractors under an order issued by U.S. officials in 2004.
After a September shooting that involved guards from Blackwater USA, the company that provides security to U.S. Embassy officials, and that left at least 17 Iraqis dead, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last month proposed a law that would repeal contractors’ immunity. The Iraqi parliament has not yet acted on the measure.
Photographer faces indefinite detention
The Pentagon said Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held in Iraq for more than 19 months without charge, could continue to be held even if an Iraqi court acquits him.
Military officials have alleged that Hussein, 36, had links to terrorist groups but are refusing to disclose what evidence or which accusations would be presented.
A public-affairs officer notified the AP last weekend that the military intended to submit a complaint against Hussein that would bring the case into the Iraqi justice system as early as Nov. 29.
Under Iraqi codes, an investigative magistrate will decide whether there are grounds to try Hussein.
The U.S. interprets the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes the Iraq mission as giving the coalition broad powers to detain anyone believed to pose a security threat.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.