Andrew Moonen, a former Blackwater USA security operator and Washington state resident, will not face federal prosecution in the 2006 fatal shooting in Baghdad of the Iraqi vice president's bodyguard.

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After a nearly four-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said Monday it will not seek an indictment against a former Blackwater USA security operator and Washington state resident for a 2006 shooting in Baghdad that claimed the life of the bodyguard of the Iraqi vice president.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, in a letter to Andrew Moonen’s criminal defense attorney, said that there is “no question that the shooting … was a tragic event,” but that after sending two senior prosecutors to Baghdad and gathering evidence and statements, the government decided it could not build a case.

Among the obstacles to trying the case was Moonen’s contention that he fired in self-defense when he wandered into an area of the secure “Green Zone” on Christmas Eve 2006 and was confronted by Rhaeem Khalif Saadoun, 32, outside the vice president’s quarters.

Forensic evidence is difficult to obtain in the war zone, according to the letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Westinghouse, and while Moonen has admitted he was intoxicated and armed, in violation of Blackwater policy, the government stated it “would likely be required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Moonen was not acting in self-defense,” a hurdle prosecutors found they could not clear.

Stewart Riley, Moonen’s attorney, said his client was “incredibly happy” with the news.

Moonen has lived in Seattle and works as a prison guard at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, arranged to have the State Department fly Moonen to the United States within hours of the shooting. Upon his return, Moonen was fired and fined, and Blackwater paid the slain bodyguard’s family $20,000.

The bodyguard’s family later sued Moonen in U.S. District Court. Court records indicate the lawsuit was settled in January, but no details were available Monday.

In December 2008, five Blackwater operators were indicted on a charge of killing at least 15 unarmed civilians and bystanders and injuring dozens of others when they opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers on a crowd in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Those charges were later dismissed.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.