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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 October 2007, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Blackwater guards 'were fired on'
Erik Prince
Erik Prince's company has been paid more than $1bn for its services
The chairman of the US private security firm, Blackwater, has insisted he has proof its guards were fired upon in the fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis last month.

Erik Prince said three of his company's vehicles "had pock marks in them from incident reports that I saw", in an interview with the US TV network CBS.

Mr Prince claimed this proved "our guys were not shooting at each other".

An Iraqi government investigation has concluded the Blackwater guards fired on the civilians without provocation.

Sure, you know, mistakes can be made... But bad things don't generally happen by themselves
Erik Prince
Blackwater chairman

On Tuesday, it demanded the US government end its association with Blackwater in Iraq within six months and hand over the contractors involved in the incident on 16 September in Baghdad.

It also said the North Carolina-based contractor should pay $8m (3.93m) compensation to each of the victims' families. Another 27 Iraqis were wounded in the shooting, according to the Iraqi police.

US officials have released few details of the incident as it is subject to an investigation by the FBI.

'Jury still out'

Mr Prince told CBS that he was glad the FBI was investigating the incident, as they would be a "neutral party".

"If there's further investigation or prosecution even needed, if someone really did wrong and meant badly, I'm all supportive," he said in an interview with the 60 Minutes programme, which will be broadcast later on Sunday.

Blackwater guards in Iraq (file)
Founded in 1997 by a former US Navy Seal
Headquarters in North Carolina
One of at least 28 private security companies in Iraq
Employs 744 US citizens, 231 third-country nationals, and 12 Iraqis to protect US state department in Iraq
Provided protection for former CPA head Paul Bremer
Four employees killed in Falluja in March 2004

"Sure, you know, mistakes can be made. I'm not saying anyone, our guys, no one's perfect," he added. "But bad things don't generally happen by themselves.

Mr Prince said the incident "started with a very large car bomb [that] blew up right outside a venue where one of our teams was with an American".

He said Blackwater vehicles were later hit by incoming small arms fire from insurgents, including one which was shot through the radiator and had to be towed from the scene.

"The fact is three of our vehicles had pock marks in them from incident reports that I saw," he added. "So, clearly, our guys were not shooting at each other."

In another interview with CNN, Mr Prince dismissed reports that investigators had found no shell casings in Nisoor Square from weapons used by anyone other than Blackwater or the US military.

Mr Prince said there was a "very big traffic circle" and that the "jury is still out".

He added that the guards involved in the incident were still in Iraq and were co-operating with the FBI investigation.

On 2 September, the former elite US Navy Seal defended his staff during a grilling by a congressional committee, saying they were brave and effective, and had acted "appropriately".

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