Foreign guards arrested in Iraq-security spokesman

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BAGHDAD, Nov 19 (Reuters) Iraqi security forces arrested a number of foreign security guards after a shooting incident in central Baghdad today, the capital's security spokesman said.

The role of foreign security guards has been under the spotlight since a September shooting in Baghdad involving private US security firm Blackwater in which 17 Iraqis died.

''Iraqi security forces arrested a number of security guards from a security company who fired at civilians today in Karrada district,'' Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told Reuters.

''They are still with the Iraqi government. They are not Iraqis, they are foreigners, and the company is a foreign company,'' he said.

Private security guards in Iraq usually have immunity from prosecution under a 2004 ruling by former US administrators.

Moussawi said the security guards were in a convoy of four four-wheel drive vehicles crossing al-Kahramana Square on the edge of Karrada. A woman crossing the street was shot.

Iraqi security forces took the woman to hospital but her condition was not known.

Iraqi soldiers detained the security guards when their convoy was stopped at an Iraqi checkpoint inside Karrada, Moussawi said.

He would not say how many were arrested but Iraq's al-Hurra television put the number of guards involved at 31.

The nationalities of the security guards was not immediately known. Moussawi said he would hold a news conference on Tuesday to provide more information.

Many Iraqis view the thousands of private security guards working in Iraq as little more than private armies who act with impunity.

The Blackwater shooting enraged Iraqis, prompting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to draw up and approve a draft law to end the 2004 decree granting foreign guards immunity.

That draft law must still be passed by parliament before it comes into effect.

Blackwater, which guards U.S. embassy staff in Baghdad and visiting dignitaries, says its guards acted lawfully and were responding to a hostile threat to a convoy they were guarding.

The incident sparked a flurry of investigations. The Pentagon and U.S. State Department have since agreed to tighten rules governing private security contractors.

Iraq says there are more than 180 mainly U.S. and European security firms in the country, with estimates of the number of private security guards put at between 25,000 and 48,000.

REUTERS RSA RN0013

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