BAGHDAD — Iraq has ordered more than 200 current and former employees of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater, which still plays a role in guarding U.S. diplomats, to leave the country within the next four days.
Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani told the Associated Press that the order is directed at security contractors who worked for Blackwater in the fall of 2007, when a security detail protecting an American convoy opened fire on a crowded square, killing 17 Iraqi civilians. The company, based in Moyock, N.C., has since changed its name to Xe.
A senior State Department official in Washington said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had been formally notified of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's decision.
"We will discuss this with the Iraqi government," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. "None of the former Blackwater employees now providing aviation services as part of the new contract (for U.S. diplomats' security) were involved in the Nisour Square incident."
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The State Department no longer has contracts in Iraq with Xe or its air services arm, Presidential Airways. A contract with Presidential Airways ended on Jan. 3.
The move follows Prime Minister Nouri al Malaki's promises to families of the victims that his government would seek justice after a U.S. court on Dec. 31 dismissed manslaughter charges against five former Blackwater security guards. It also follows the kidnapping of an Iraqi-American military contractor in Baghdad, who appeared in a video this week by a radical Iranian-backed group calling for the conviction of Blackwater employees.
Bolani said the Blackwater personnel were notified three days ago of the order, which gave them a week to leave or have their authorization to remain in the country revoked.
Many former Blackwater employees, who had provided diplomatic security for senior U.S. State Department staff and operated the U.S. Embassy's helicopter services, have remained in the country under other contracts after the Iraqi government banned Blackwater from operating here.
U.S. officials had previously said that movements of diplomats, already severely restricted due to security fears, would be even more curtailed if former Blackwater guards were removed from duty.
Vice President Joe Biden, in a visit to Baghdad in January, expressed personal regret over the Sept. 16, 2007, incident. He said the U.S. would appeal the court decision that dismissed manslaughter charges against the five former Blackwater guards.
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