WASHINGTON — Troubled military contractor Blackwater USA is likely to be eased out of its role of guarding U.S. diplomats in Iraq in the aftermath of a shooting last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, U.S. officials said Friday.
While no decisions have been finalized, Blackwater's role in Baghdad is likely to be taken over by one of two other contractors who provide security for the State Department in Iraq, the officials said. They are Triple Canopy and DynCorp International.
"There will be some sort of disengagement process, but it won't be that they're shown the door," said a State Department official. "As one builds down, another builds up."
He and other U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hadn't received an oral report from a four-person team led by Patrick Kennedy, the department's director of management policy. The team reviewed State Department security operations in Iraq.
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Blackwater has denied wrongdoing in the Sept. 16 shooting, the latest deadly incident involving its employees in Iraq, saying the guards were defending themselves. But reports by the U.S. military and the Iraqi government say the Blackwater guards fired without provocation.
Iraq's government has demanded that Blackwater leave Iraq within six months.
A company spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
Blackwater's current work order under a State Department contract worth $834 million reportedly runs out in May 2008.
But replacing the Moyock, N.C., company with another contractor raises several questions.
It's unclear whether Blackwater employees in Iraq could simply switch employers. And, according to congressional officials, the State Department's Diplomatic Security service argues that it cannot operate without the helicopters that Blackwater provides for escort and rescue efforts.
In a related development Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who's been investigating State Department operations in Iraq, said in a letter that Blackwater attempted to transport two Iraqi military aircraft out of Iraq without official permission.
In the letter to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Waxman said that an unnamed military official told his House Oversight Committee that "the Iraqi ministry of defense attempted to reclaim the aircraft, but that Blackwater would not comply."
Waxman also alleged that Prince had misled the committee in testimony earlier this month. Prince had said that the company's early contracts with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and the State Department were competitively bid, when in fact they were sole-source contracts.
Waxman demanded that Prince turn over a wealth of company information to the committee, including contract documents, Blackwater's profit data and information about Prince's compensation.
In the letter, and in a separate one to Rice, he asked for details about payments that the company has given to the families of Iraqis Blackwater killed.
For the Waxman letters, go to: http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1558