Iraq to put 31 Asians on trial after shooting

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BAGHDAD, Nov 23 (Reuters) Thirty-one Asians will soon face trial in Iraq on charges of entering the country illegally, in the wake of a shooting this week involving a foreign logistics firm, the government's spokesman said.

Iraqi security forces detained 43 people including the 31 Asian workers from a convoy of vehicles at a checkpoint after the shooting in central Baghdad on Monday in which a woman was seriously wounded. The other 12 detained were guards.

The US military has said those responsible for the shooting could be charged under Iraqi law because the company involved, Dubai-based ALMCO, was a logistics contractor for food supply, construction and training, not a security firm. Security contractors have immunity from Iraqi law.

ALMCO has not commented on Monday's incident.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraqi authorities had finished their investigation into 21 Sri Lankans, nine Nepalis and one Indian who had been detained at the checkpoint.

''They will go before an Iraqi court on charges of entering Iraq illegally,'' Dabbagh told Reuters, without giving a date for the hearing.

The remaining 12 -- 10 Iraqi and two Fijian guards -- were still being investigated and could face criminal charges, Dabbagh said.

An Iraqi military spokesman has said the guards fired randomly and wounded the woman.

The incident was the latest in a string of shootings that have triggered widespread anger and prompted the Iraqi government to propose a change to the laws under which foreign security contractors operate.

A September shooting involving Blackwater, a private US firm, in which 17 Iraqis were killed, prompted the Iraqi government to approve a draft law to end a 2004 decree by former US administrators giving security firms immunity from prosecution. That draft must still be passed by parliament.

Blackwater says it acted lawfully in the September shooting.

Thousands of Asians work in Iraq for private contractors, doing jobs ranging from driving trucks to cooking and cleaning.

REUTERS ARB DS1223

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