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PM Says Iraq Will File Lawsuit Against Blackwater

An Iraqi woman looks inside a blood-stained car after an incident in central Baghdad in October 2007.

An Iraqi woman looks inside a blood-stained car after an incident in central Baghdad in October 2007.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq said today it would launch lawsuits in U.S. and Iraqi courts against a U.S. security firm accused in the 2007 killing of civilians in Baghdad, rejecting a U.S. judge's decision to throw out charges.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "confirmed that the Iraqi government will undertake a lawsuit in Iraq and the United States against American security company Blackwater," his office said in a statement.

The Iraqi government "rejects the ruling issued by the American court acquitting the company of the crime of killing a number of citizens," Maliki said.

Last week, a U.S. federal judge threw out charges against five guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, saying the defendants' constitutional rights had been violated.

The Blackwater incident came to symbolize for Iraqis what they saw as foreigners' disregard for their lives after private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts following the 2003 U.S. invasion.

That immunity was lifted in a bilateral agreement that came into effect from last year. It is not clear how an Iraqi case against the guards, or Blackwater itself, would get around the immunity that was in place in 2007.

The Iraqi government called the U.S. court ruling "unacceptable and unjust" and promised to support a lawsuit in U.S. courts filed by victims of the shooting or their relatives.

The guards from Blackwater, now called Xe Services, say they fired in self-defense in the incident, which occurred during some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq. But witnesses and victims say the guards, escorting a heavily armed convoy through Baghdad traffic, shot indiscriminately.

The five guards were charged in a U.S. federal court with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 of attempting to commit manslaughter, and one weapons violation. A sixth Blackwater guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The U.S. ruling comes at a sensitive time for Iraqi politicians, trying to demonstrate their independence from foreign influence and their security credentials ahead of national polls in March.

The U.S. State Department has relied heavily on Blackwater since 2003 to protect diplomats and other officials. But Iraq revoked the firm's license following the 2007 shooting.