Contractors kill Armenian Christians in Iraq

On the heels of the outcry over the Blackwater massacre, comes another atrocity by a private contractor in Iraq. A particular ugly irony is that this time the victims were members of one of Iraq’s threatened minorities—the Armenians, whose very precarious existence in Iraq largely goes unnoticed by the outside world. The painful irony is compounded by the Bush administrations’ ongoing betrayal of the historical memory of the World War I-era Armenian genocide, which is once again in the headlines at the moment. From AP, Oct. 11:

On Wednesday, Iraqi officials demanded answers of an Australian-owned security company blamed in the killing of two Iraqi Christian women amid rising calls for a crackdown on private bodyguards used by the U.S. government.

The scrutiny of Unity Resources Group began a day after its guards allegedly gunned down the two women in their car, and less than a month after 17 Iraqis died in a hail of bullets fired by Blackwater USA contractors at a busy Baghdad intersection.

At a funeral in Baghdad’s Armenian Orthodox Virgin Mary church on Wednesday, the Rev. Kivork Arshlian urged the government to punish those responsible. The immunity enjoyed by foreign security contractors in Iraq should be lifted, he said.

“This is a crime against humanity in general and against Iraqis in particular. Many other people were killed in a similar way,” he said. “We call upon the government to put an end to these killings.”

His comments reflected growing anger here against the contractors — nearly all based in the United States, Britain and other Western countries.

As the largest security firm operating in Iraq, much of that rage has been directed at Blackwater, which protects U.S. diplomats as they move about on Baghdad’s dangerous streets. An Iraqi investigation into the Sept. 16 killings recommended that the State Department sever all contracts for the company’s operations in Iraq within six months.

A top aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that Washington was considering meeting the demand, “but so far there has been no concrete answer from the U.S. Embassy showing it was definitely going to drop Blackwater.”

The embassy declined to comment.

According to witnesses and police, the Armenian Christian women died when their white Oldsmobile was struck by bullets from two Unity guards as the convoy was returning to a company compound in the Karradah district. They said the woman driving the car appeared to be trying to stop when she was killed.

“We cannot say the guards shot at random, but we rather say that they used deadly force in a situation where they shouldn’t have,” said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. “The preliminary investigation has shown that there was no threat to the convoy. The families of the victims will be summoned according to the legal procedures. They can file a law suit against the security company.”

Unity Chief operating officer Michael Priddin said company officials were cooperating with Iraqi authorities in their investigations. He said the security team feared a suicide attack and fired only after issuing appropriate warnings for the vehicle to stop, including signs, strobe lights, hand signals and a signal flare.

Unity, which is owned by Australian partners but with headquarters in the United Arab Emirates, provides protection for USAID contractor RTI International. According to the USAID Web site, RTI has about $450 million in U.S. government contracts to work on local governance projects in Iraq. USAID is a semiautonomous arm of the State Department that manages American aide programs.

See our last posts on Iraq, Iraq’s Christians and other threatened minorities.

  1. Iraq: US air-strike wipes out civilians
    From the Washington Post, Oct. 12:

    BAGHDAD — Iraqis voiced outrage Friday over a U.S. military airstrike that killed an estimated 15 civilians, nine children and six women, one of the highest reported civilian death tolls from an American bombing in months.

    The bombing occurred Wednesday evening after U.S. troops raided a suspected leadership meeting of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq that was taking place south of Lake Tharthar, near the town of Samarra in western Iraq. The U.S. military account of the violence said troops were shot at during the raid and called in an airstrike in self-defense. In addition to the civilians killed, the U.S. military estimated that 19 suspected insurgents died.

    “This could have been done through the infantry,” said Ibrahim al-Khamas, a Samarra city council member. “But the American Army prefers the easiest solution, which is the air bombardment.”

    The bombing came on the evening before Eid al-Fitr, the religious celebration that concludes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

    “This airstrike was excessive as usual, which led to the fall of civilians,” Khamas added. “People here are now carrying great hatred against the Americans after the raid. This airstrike turned their Eid to grief.”

    The U.S. military provided little further information Friday but said it was investigating the incident with local officials and tribal leaders. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Winfield Danielson said the initial death tolls of combatants and civilians were estimates. Of the 15 civilians initially reported killed, all were women and children, and it was unclear whether the U.S. military considered all the males killed to be insurgents.

    An elder in the town of Tharthar, Mohammed Mukhlis al-Darraji, said the bombing took place in an area called al-Samacha, Arabic for “fishermen,” the occupation of many people living around the lake. Darraji said that victims included infants, but acknowledged that “this area is one of al-Qaida’s favorites.”

    Mohammed al-Samarrae, 34, said his pregnant cousin was killed in the bombing. He expressed a mix of dismay at her death and the weariness of living with more than four years of war.

    “Where can anybody be safe from Bush’s democracy?” he asked. “Whenever we want to open a new chapter with the Americans, to forget the past and try all over again, they drag us into violence, weapons and fighting again. And to sympathize with al-Qaida against them. All because of their inconsideration for our blood.”

    Some Iraqis called the U.S. airstrike a success. Amar Abdul Kareem, a member of a group of tribal leaders in Salahuddin province who are collaborating with the U.S. military against al-Qaida, said the important aspect of the raid was killing the suspected insurgents. As for the civilians, he said, “God have mercy on them.”

    “If they did not die in the raid, the terrorists would have killed them with car bombs,” he said. “I am confident that the American military did not deliberately want to harm any of the Iraqis, and did not intend to spoil the joy of Eid.”

    Violence continued in the capital on Friday, when a car bomb exploded near a popular market in central Baghdad. The blast, near Tahrir Square, killed five people, including two policemen, and wounded 10 others, Iraqi police said.

    Also, in Tuz Khurmatu, near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, a bomb hidden amid toys in a carriage exploded on a playground, killing two people and wounding 12 others, police said.

  2. Iraq: US contractors kill again
    From the New York Times, Nov. 20, links added:

    43 in Contractor’s Convoy Held After Baghdad Shooting
    BAGHDAD — The Iraqi military detained 43 people in a convoy for a contractor with the United States military on Monday after the shooting of an 18-year-old woman in central Baghdad, the military said.

    Witnesses and an Iraqi Army sergeant said a guard on the convoy wounded the teenager in the leg as she crossed the street in the bustling, mixed neighborhood of Karada.

    While some early accounts said American security guards had been arrested, Maj. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for the military, said none of those arrested were Americans. The military said the episode involved Almco, a Dubai-based company under contract to the military.

    Immediately after the shooting on Monday, a throng of angry civilians lashed out at the guard and beat him along with his passengers, believing they were insurgents, witnesses said.

    The company has a construction contract with the Department of Defense’s Joint Contracting Command Iraq and another contract to provide food, water and other basic services with the Multi-National Security Transition Command, which assists the Iraqi government with the development, organization and training of its armed forces.

    The company does not handle any personal security for the American forces, but it is responsible for providing security for its own convoys, personnel and supplies while it is doing work related to its Department of Defense contracts.

    Oh, and more horror, if you want it:

    Elsewhere in Iraq, an apparent execution site filled with human remains and a torture chamber containing chains, heavy locks and shackles were found during a village raid in the province of Diyala, the American military reported. The military, which sent soldiers into the village earlier this month, said the sites belonged to the homegrown Sunni extremist group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which American intelligence believes is foreign-led. Eight insurgents were killed and 13 arrested during the raids, the military said, and a safe house containing false-identification materials was found.

    The village, Abi Saida, is a known magnet for insurgent activity, and the military said it also found caches of arms there that included missiles, bombs and antiaircraft weaponry. The military said it had raided the suspect buildings in the village over a five-day period in early November and discovered the apparent execution site, where the remains of five people were found along with shell casings.