US says Blackwater still under contract in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Sep 20 (Reuters) US security firm Blackwater remains in Iraq under a State Department contract while a joint commission investigates a shooting incident in Baghdad on Sunday that left 11 Iraqis dead, the US embassy said today.

Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the personnel involved in the incident would not leave Iraq before the investigation yielded results.

''(Blackwater) are still here and still under contract from the State Department,'' she said. ''Since they support chief personnel movement and we are not moving, there is no activity from Blackwater at the moment.'' Nantongo said the joint Iraqi-US commission would consist of eight members on each side. The US mission's charge d'affairs would head the US side whilst Iraq's defence minister would head the Iraqi side.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday that the embassy could use another security firm for protection and vowed not to allow Iraqis to be killed again in ''cold blood''.

The United States has barred diplomats from leaving central Baghdad's ''Green Zone'' by road. The heavily protected area houses the US embassy as well as many Iraqi ministries and senior officials who are largely protected from the violence in other parts of the Iraqi capital.

REUTERS SKB BD1958

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