US extends contract with Blackwater for Iraq
The US State Department is extending its Iraq contract with Blackwater security firm, which is still under investigation for killing 17 Iraqi civilians last year.
Gregory Starr, acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said on Friday that security needs dictated renewal of the contract, which was due to expire next month, Bloomberg News and the Washington Post reported.
The September 16, 2007 shooting in which Blackwater guards opened fire in a Baghdad neighbourhood, provoked the Iraqi government to anger and sparked an uproar about the use of private guards in Iraq.
Blackwater guards provide security for US diplomats in Baghdad. The firm has a five-year contract, with one base year and options on the four following years, the Washington Post reported late Friday. The contract is entering its fourth year.
Blackwater maintained that the diplomatic convoy it was protecting came under fire from armed militants, an account strongly disputed by the Iraqi government.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have deemed most of the 17 fatal shootings were unjustified, The New York Times reported late last year, citing unnamed sources.
It remains unclear whether the guards involved in the shooting can be prosecuted under US law, but the incident is still being investigated.