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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 12:16 UK

US 'to scrap' contractor immunity

Blackwater helicopter in Baghdad
Iraqi critics say security firms act with little concern for civilian life

The US has agreed to scrap immunity for foreign security guards in Iraq, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says.

The US embassy in Baghdad has not confirmed the announcement, which comes as the US and Iraq are negotiating a controversial security pact.

Foreign firms employing thousands of guards won huge contracts in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, but were not subject to Iraqi or US military law.

Iraqi frustration became fury last year when guards killed 17 people in a day.

Correspondents say a deal on scrapping contractors' immunity brings the two countries closer to signing the long-term security pact.

The pact is meant to establish ground rules for a continuing US troop presence in Iraq after the UN mandate for foreign forces stationed there expires in December 2008.

'Trigger-happy'

The firm involved in the 2007 killings - Blackwater, one of the biggest security contractors in Iraq and which protects US diplomats - says its guards were acting in self-defence.

Eyewitnesses say guards of a US diplomatic convoy started shooting without provocation.

The incident brought to the fore a long-standing Iraqi complaint that the guards were little more than trigger-happy mercenaries.

In addition to the immunity question, there are also discussions about the number of permanent US military bases in Iraq, immunity for the US military and its rights to detain and imprison Iraqi citizens.


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