Blackwater ends Iraq operation

BAGHDAD: US security firm Blackwater ended its operations in Iraq on Thrusday, closing a controversial era for the company whose guards shot dead 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

“The task order for security protection operations held by Blackwater comes to an end today in

Baghdad,” American embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said, adding that Triple Canopy will replace it.

The US State Department on March 31 awarded Virginia-based Triple Canopy a contract reportedly worth nearly a billion dollars to take over protection of US government personnel in Iraq.

Linked agreements such as that for Presidential Airways, part of Blackwater that operates helicopter escorts throughout the country for secure air travel, will expire soon, Ziadeh added.

The State Department refused to renew annual contracts for Blackwater which renamed itself Xe after the Iraq government banned it in January over the killings in Baghdad’s Nisur Square on September 16, 2007.

An Iraqi investigation found that 17 civilians died and 20 were wounded when Blackwater guards opened fire with automatic weapons while escorting an American diplomatic convoy through the square.

US prosecutors say 14 civilians were killed in the incident. Five former Blackwater guards pleaded not guilty at a federal court in Washington in January to manslaughter charges.

Blackwater personnel were reported to earn as much as 1,000 dollars a day each in Iraq.

A report in the New York Times on April 3, valued Triple Canopy’s new contract at 977 million dollars.

The paper also said that many of the company’s guards were likely to be former Blackwater employees.

But Interior Ministry spokesman major General Abdul Karim Khalaf told AFP Blackwater guards would be denied work in Iraq.