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Tuesday 23 April 2019

US security firm under fire for 11 Iraq deaths

The head of a US security company, being investigated after allegations that it indiscriminately shot civilians in Iraq, has defended his employees as "dedicated professionals".

Erik Prince, the founder and chief executive of Blackwater, faced hostile questioning from sceptical Democrats on a House of Representatives committee.

He insisted that his employees, contracted by the US State Department, often had to act with lethal force to get people away from "where the bad guys have tried to kill Americans that day".

Mr Prince's testimony came as the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it was investigating Blackwater personnel for their role in a incident in Baghdad on September 16 that left at least 11 Iraqis -- most or all of whom were civilians -- dead.

The committee also cited evidence of a shooting by a drunken Blackwater employee after a Christmas Eve party last year that killed a bodyguard of one of Iraq's two vice-presidents. The employee was allowed to leave Iraq without facing any charges.

"Privatising is working exceptionally well for Blackwater," said Congressman Henry Waxman, the Democratic committee chairman.

"The question for this hearing is whether outsourcing to Blackwater is a good deal to the American taxpayer, whether it's a good deal for the military and whether it's serving our national interest in Iraq."

A committee report found that Blackwater had been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005, and opened fire 84pc of the time, despite a contract agreement to use only defensive force.

Mr Prince, who set up Blackwater in 1997 at the age of 27, rejected the accusation that his 861 employees in Iraq were cowboys, who opened fire first and asked questions later.

"There has been a rush to judgment based on inaccurate information, and many public reports have wrongly pronounced Blackwater's guilt for the deaths of varying numbers of civilians," he said.

"Congress should not accept these allegations as truth until it has the facts."

He added that not a single person Blackwater was protecting had been killed in Iraq, though 28 employees had died, including four who were dragged from their vehicles by a mob in Fallujah in 2004 and their charred bodies dangled from a bridge.

But he acknowledged that Blackwater personnel had made errors.

"We strive for perfection. We try to drive towards the highest standards.

"But the fog of war and accidents and the bad guys just have to get lucky once," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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