Baghdad shooting victims sue Blackwater in US

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WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) An injured survivor and relatives of three Iraqis killed in Baghdad on September 16 when employees of private security company Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians sued the firm in US court today.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group, said it filed the suit charging that Blackwater and its affiliates violated US law in committing ''extrajudicial killings and war crimes.'' The killing of 17 Iraqis in the Baghdad incident created tensions between the Iraqi government and Washington and sparked calls for tighter controls on private contractors, who are immune from prosecution in Iraq.

The suit charges that Blackwater ''created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life.'' The suit was filed in the names of Talib Mutlaq Deewan, injured in the incident, and the estates of Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbass and Oday Ismail Ibraheem. It seeks unspecified compensatory damages for death, physical, mental and economic injuries, and punitive damages.

Those bringing the suit also want to compel the testimony of Blackwater founder and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince, who told Congress last week that his staff had acted appropriately in the incident and had returned fire at threatening targets.

''We look forward to forcing Blackwater and Mr. Prince to tell the world under oath why this attack happened,'' said Susan Burke, an attorney representing the suing Iraqis.

The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of deliberately killing the 17. A government source has said Baghdad wants Blackwater to pay 8 million dollars in compensation to each victim's family.

There are at least three investigations into the September 16 Blackwater incident, which occurred while the contractor was conducting a convoy through Baghdad.

Blackwater has received US government contracts worth more than 1 billion dollar since 2001. It is under intense scrutiny for its security work in Iraq, where the firm has about 1,000 personnel to protect the US mission and its diplomats from attack.

Attempts to reach Blackwater today for comment on the lawsuit were not immediately successful.

REUTERS SYU BST2200

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