UN expert wants to probe Iraq contractor killings

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Reuters) The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings said today he plans to investigate deaths caused by the U.S. military and contractors in Iraq, including the recent Blackwater case in Baghdad.

Private security firm Blackwater has been under intense scrutiny since the shooting deaths of at least 17 Iraqis last month in an incident that enraged Iraq's government and sparked calls for greater accountability for contractors.

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told a news conference at the United Nations the United States was among the few countries that had agreed for him to visit as part of his mandate to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings.

He said he planned to make an official visit to the United States next spring to prepare a report.

''The range of issues remains open,'' he said.

''I am very interested in questions relating to military justice, for example. In other words, the response to alleged extrajudicial executions by members of the US military, particularly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.'' He said representatives of several countries at a UN committee which he addressed earlier on Friday had raised the issue of ''non-state actors and military contractors.'' ''That's clearly an issue which I would want to look at insofar as executions are involved, and obviously in the Blackwater case recently, they are,'' Alston said.

Alston, an Australian law professor at New York University, reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council -- a body which Washington has criticized for focusing too much on Israel.

Alston said he was frequently asked why he chose to investigate certain countries and his answer was that many others he would like to visit refused to invite him.

''I had a long list of other countries I asked and they didn't acquiesce,'' he said.

He listed a string of other countries about which he had concerns which had refused to invite him, including Human Rights Council members Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Russia and China.

Alston singled out Iran and Singapore as countries of serious concern with regard to their implementation of the death penalty.

''The government of Iran never responds to any of the communications I send them,'' he said.

REUTERS SZ PM0230

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