Some contractors over-react in Iraq - US general

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WASHINGTON, Sep 29 (Reuters) Private security contractors, who are under scrutiny over the shooting deaths of 11 Iraqis this month, have over-reacted in some situations and used ''over the top'' tactics, a US general said.

US defense officials say contractors in Iraq serve critical roles that free US troops up for other duties.

But officers, often speaking privately, say the strong-arm tactics employed by private security contractors hurt troops' efforts to secure the trust and cooperation of Iraqi civilians.

''I can certainly say I've seen them do some tactics that I thought were over the top,'' said US Brig Gen Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq said yesterday.

''Are they quicker with the trigger? Are they quicker to wave a weapon, brandish a weapon, other tactics, cutting people off? All of us have experienced, have seen different things at different times. I have seen them, in my opinion, over-react but that does not mean it's consistently the case,'' he told Pentagon reporters by videolink from Iraq.

Security contractors have come under intense scrutiny after a September 16 incident involving US firm Blackwater in which 11 Iraqis were killed after guards opened fire while escorting a convoy through Baghdad.

Blackwater works for the US State Department in Iraq. The Defense Department employs at least 7,300 security contractors in the war zone, but none from Blackwater.

A joint US-Iraqi investigation is underway into the September incident. The State Department and Pentagon have also sent teams to Iraq to investigate contractor operations.

The State Department is sending it's director of management policy, Patrick Kennedy, to Baghdad next week, as part of a panel to review the department's security practices in Iraq.

REVIEWS MUST BE ''PROBING'' ''My instructions to the panel are simple: their review should be serious, probing and comprehensive,'' said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a statement.

''Once they have established baseline facts, I look forward to hearing their recommendations on how to protect our people while furthering our foreign policy objectives,'' she added.

The panel also comprises retired Gen. George Joulwan, former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; former ambassador to China and Indonesia, Stapleton Roy; and Eric Boswell, a former Assistant Secretary of State for diplomatic security.

The New York Times and Washington Post, citing unnamed US officials, yesterday reported that a Blackwater security guard screamed at colleagues to stop shooting in the September incident and that at least one employee of the firm pointed a gun at a fellow guard to try to stop the shooting.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said those reports, based on a two-page diplomatic security incident report, were not the full story.

''Those kinds of reports exist but they are not analytical and done with any review,'' he said. ''They give a first accounting on an incident.'' ''The only report or story or version of events that will have any credence will be the final report. Frankly anything before that is just one more version.'' A State Department official, who asked not to be named, said Iraq's government had reported at least five instances in which Blackwater contractors were responsible for the deaths of civilians.

From January to Sept. 18, Blackwater conducted 1,873 missions protecting diplomats or visitors outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad. On 56 of those missions, weapons were fired, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on Thursday.

He provided no details of the incidents but said they were reviewed to ensure procedures were followed.

Reuters MP VP0445

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