UN says prosecute Iraq contractors who commit crimes

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BAGHDAD, Oct 11 (Reuters) The United Nations called on the United States government today to ensure that any US private contractors committing offences in Iraq are prosecuted.

The killing of 17 Iraqis in a shooting involving US security firm Blackwater last month has created tensions between Baghdad and Washington and sparked calls for tighter controls on private contractors, who are immune from prosecution in Iraq.

In a new human rights report, the UN mission in Iraq urged ''US authorities to investigate reports of deaths caused by privately hired contractors and establish effective mechanisms for holding them accountable for where the circumstances surrounding the killings show no justifiable cause''.

The report covers the April-June quarter and was not specifically referring to the September 16 incident involving Blackwater.

However, it noted other reported shootings by private security contractors in the three-month period, including one by the US firm on May 24.

''The US government should take steps to ensure that offences committed in Iraq by all categories of US contractor employees are subject to prosecution under the law,'' the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

Many Iraqis see private security companies as little more than private armies which act with impunity. Iraqi authorities have accused Blackwater of ''deliberately killing'' the 17 Iraqis in last month's shooting, but the security firm says its guards responded lawfully to a threat against a convoy it was guarding.

This week, in a second reported incident involving foreign security guards, two women were shot dead when their vehicle ventured too close to an armed convoy. The Australian-owned, Dubai-based security firm Unity Resources Group said the vehicle had ignored repeated warnings to stop.

REUTERS AE PM1530

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