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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 02:20 GMT 03:20 UK
Minister seeks Blackwater trials
By Bridget Kendall
BBC diplomatic correspondent

Blackwater guards in Iraq (file)
Blackwater provides security to US diplomatic staff in Baghdad
Private security guards from the US firm Blackwater should stand trial in Iraq, according to Iraq's Minister for Human Rights, Mrs Wijdan Salim.

She said the Iraqi government's inquiry into a shooting incident which left some 17 Iraqi civilians dead would be made public within the next two weeks.

The Blackwater private security firm says its guards acted in self-defence.

But the minister said in her view all private security firms in Iraq should be liable under Iraqi criminal law.

However, she admitted a final ruling would up to the Iraqi courts to decide.

Mrs Salim was speaking on a visit to London.

Dual inquiries

It is now a month since the incident on 16 September when Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, killing at least 17 people.

The incident prompted a wholesale review into how private security firms in Iraq operate.

The government in Baghdad has held one inquiry.

Further investigations are under way in the US. Mrs Salim said that the Iraq inquiry would only be published once the US government probe had been concluded.

Already Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has indicated he wants all Blackwater guards to leave the country.

Now Mrs Wijdan Salim says those responsible should face trial in Iraq and if found guilty be punished accordingly.

She also said the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by foreign security firms under a law passed by Iraq's now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority must end.

From now on all private security firms should be liable under Iraqi criminal law.

And if that meant they preferred to depart, then, she said, Iraqi guards would have to replace them.

She admitted the final ruling on what should happen would be made by the Iraqi courts in consultation with the government.

But if it led to the large-scale departure of the tens of thousands of foreign security guards in Iraq, it would have a major impact on work of both American and other international operations.

It is looking increasingly likely that the consequences of this Blackwater case will be far-reaching.

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