Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 13:42 UK

Iraqi father seeks Blackwater apology

By Mike Lanchin and Mona Mahmoud
BBC News

Eight months after his nine-year-old son died in a shooting incident involving private security guards from the US firm Blackwater, the boy's father has called for an official apology and admission of guilt from the company, rather than compensation.

Ali Abdul-Razzaq

"I am ready to sign a deal [with Blackwater] in exchange for an admission of the crime and an apology," Mohammed Hafidh Abdul-Razzaq, a car spare-parts dealer from Baghdad, told the BBC.

"This is important for me, morally, for my family and my tribe."

He said he had conveyed the message to one of the company's officials when they met in the Iraqi capital; but, he said, he was told that an admission would not be possible "for legal reasons".

On Tuesday, Mr Abdul-Razzaq was one of three Iraqis to give evidence to a closed-door session of a federal grand jury in Washington investigating the shooting on 16 September, 2007, in which 17 Iraqi civilians died, including Mr Abdul-Razzaq's son Ali.

It was one of the most serious incidents involving private security firms in Iraq.

According to Blackwater Worldwide, its guards were responding to an attack on the convoy they were assigned to protect.

The company's owner, Eric Prince, told a congressional hearing last year into the shooting that Nisoor Square was a "terrorist crime scene".

A spokesperson for Blackwater declined a BBC invitation for an interview, citing the ongoing investigations.

'Ali's dead'

Speaking to the BBC before he travelled, Mr Abdul-Razzaq said that he was not aware of any threat to the Blackwater convoy in Nisoor Square.

I began to shout down the road, 'They've killed my son, they've killed my son'
Mohammed Hafidh Abdul-Razzaq

Mr Abdul-Razzaq had been driving home with his sister, her three children and Ali. He said that "everything was quiet, nothing was happening" when the security guards began to open fire on civilian vehicles, including his own.

"They just kept shooting, although no-one was moving, they were just combing the whole road, tat tat tat, like that, there was nothing in the road."

He said that he and his sister huddled together, each trying to protect the other, while the four children tried to find protection under cushions in the back of the car.

He said the shooting lasted "10, perhaps 15 minutes" and that when he climbed out of the bullet-ridden car, shaken but unharmed, one of his nephews called out to him from the back seat: "Uncle, Ali's dead."

Sobbing, he described opening the car door to a scene of horror. His son had been shot in the head. "I pushed him back inside and I began to shout down the road, 'They've killed my son, they've killed my son'."

'New procedures'

Following the shooting, Mr Abdul-Razzaq said that on at least two occasions he had been offered compensation by Blackwater and US government officials in Baghdad.

On each occasion, he said he had turned down the offers - one of which was for US$12,500. "Other people who have relatives who were victims took the money, but I refused," he said.

Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, confirmed that it was US policy to offer compensation to Iraqi civilians "in circumstances where it was evident that [they] were not engaged in an attack on the United States".

Mr Kennedy said that the US government had established new procedures for its security contractors - including Blackwater - following the shooting last year.

Each convoy was now required to be accompanied by a US state department official, and to install cameras and recording equipment on their vehicles.

"I know of no other country than Iraq that employs these measures," Mr Kennedy said.

John Holmes, a retired major general and director of the British security firm Erinys International, which has been offering protection services in Iraq since August 2003, said there was now a "closer relationship" between the American military and all the private security convoys.

Companies were now required to give at least 72 hours notice to the military of all movements - something lacking in the past, he said.

But, he added: "There will always be some difference between companies, depending on their previous military experience and nationality, the same as the difference between units in a multi-national force, which have a different interpretation of the rules and regulations."

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