Blackwater supports State Dept. recommendations

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WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (Reuters) Private security contractor Blackwater USA said it supports recommendations by a State Department panel to boost oversight of contractors in Iraq.

North Carolina-based Blackwater, which employs about 1,000 people in Iraq, said yesterday it was pleased the US government was seeking to improve contractor accountability.

Blackwater has been under intense scrutiny since the shooting deaths of at least 17 Iraqis last month in Baghdad in an incident that enraged Iraq's government.

Blackwater, which protects US diplomats and other State Department officials in Iraq, has said its guards acted lawfully.

A panel of experts appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to look into the work of private security contractors after the September 16 shooting said this week that prompt measures were needed to strengthen oversight and accountability of the department's security practices in Iraq.

''Improvements are necessary to address shortcomings in coordination and oversight that have undermined confidence in the operation of the security program,'' the report said.

Blackwater said it welcomed the recommendations.

''We look forward to participating in constructive efforts to improve governmental oversight and accountability and we applaud the Department of State for taking this essential first step,'' the company said in a statement.

The State Department's chief of diplomatic security, Richard Griffin, resigned yesterday, a day after the panel reported its findings. The State Department declined comment on the reason for his departure.

Rice on Tuesday ordered tougher oversight of private guards in Iraq, including tighter rules on the use of force.

The State Department said other measures included improved training and clearer rules of engagement, better coordination with the US military as well as cultural sensitivity training for guards and more Arabic speakers.

Earlier this month, Rice ordered the installation of cameras on all Blackwater convoys in Baghdad and said diplomatic agents should accompany them on each mission.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized the work of security contractors as being at odds with the overall US mission in Iraq.

Iraqis have long complained about the thousands of private security guards in Iraq and US lawmakers have accused them of being trigger-happy and not accountable under either US or Iraqi law for their actions.

Reuters AK VP0740

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