2009/05/07:Blackwater leaves Baghdad

Baghdad deal for former Blackwater expires

By Kim Gamel - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 7, 2009 8:16:41 EDT

BAGHDAD — The Baghdad contract for the security firm once known as Blackwater Worldwide ended Thursday, the U.S. Embassy said, although the company will temporarily continue operations elsewhere in Iraq.

The confirmation of the end of the company’s operations in Baghdad was a major step toward ending the presence of the firm that has become a flashpoint for Iraqi anger after a deadly 2007 shooting by its contractors.

However, State Department officials have said the company will remain in some areas of southern Iraq into the summer and that its aviation service, Presidential Airways, will provide air security for U.S. diplomatic convoys into September.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said the company’s task order for Baghdad ended Thursday and a new security provider, Triple Canopy, was taking over.

Ziadeh wouldn’t comment on specifics, saying only that the company has other task orders that “will come to an end once they expire, which will be soon.”

The Iraqi government denied the U.S. company, which is now known as Xe, a license in January. But it has continued operations protecting American diplomats, raising questions over the strength of Iraq’s sovereignty as it remains heavily dependent on the U.S. for security.

Iraqis have long complained about the heavy-handed behavior of security contractors for Blackwater and other companies. That anger peaked in September 2007, when Blackwater guards opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

The shooting further strained relations between Baghdad and Washington, leading the Iraqi government to demand the company be expelled from the country.

But the American Embassy, which is located in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, has relied heavily on Blackwater for protection, and diplomats said privately that more time was needed to find other options.

In February, Blackwater changed its name in a bid to leave its controversial reputation behind.

After the Nisoor Square deaths, Iraqi officials ruled that Blackwater would be barred from operating in the country. Despite the ban, the State Department renewed Blackwater’s contract seven months later, in April 2008.

It wasn’t until January, when Iraqi authorities denied the company an operating license, that the Obama administration said it would not renew the company’s existing task orders.