Two Iraqi Christian woman died after coming under fire from a Unity Resources Group security convoy Tuesday, adding further fuel to the campaign to hold security contractors accountable for civilian casualties.
As word of the incident began to hit the news wires, speculation surged in Baghdad that Blackwater had gotten itself in trouble again, but the Times of London confirmed Unity Resources had been running the convoy implicated in the shooting.
“The company was involved in a shooting incident,” said a Unity spokesman. “We are working with the Iraqi authorities,” he told The Times, speaking by telephone from Dubai.
The Unity spokesman was unable to say who the convoy was protecting at the time of the incident, though a US embassy official reported, "There may be a contractual relationship with a U.S. NGO."
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the Unity Resources Group had apologized for the incident, and that both the company and the Iraqi government have launched investigations.
"They apologized and said they are ready to meet all the legal commitments," he said.
The exact sequence of events from Tuesday's incident remain to be established, but the Unity spokesman said the guards gave an escalation of warnings, including smoke, hand signals, and a warning shot, to a car that was approaching their convoy at speed. When the vehicle failed to stop, the guards opened fire, the Times reports.
Shopkeeper Ammar Fallah, a witness to the Tuesday's shooting, told AFP the guards signalled for a woman driving a white Oldsmobile car to pull over as they passed.
"When she failed to do so they opened fire, killing her and the woman next to her," he said. "There were two children in the back seat but they were not harmed. The women were both shot in the head."
Another local shopkeeper told Reuters television four or five vehicles were driving down the road when the shooting happened.
"An Oldsmobile came out of this side road and it had two women in the front and children in the back," he said.
"They fired a warning shot when they were about 80 metres away, which probably made them panic because they went forward a little bit, and (the security guards) started firing at her from all directions."
AP spoke to a policeman, Riyadh Majid, who reported the men in the SUVs threw a smoke bomb as a warning, but the had not managed to stop before the contractors opened fire.
Another policeman, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said the guards were masked and wearing khaki uniforms. He said one of them left the vehicle and started to shoot at the car while another opened fire from the open back door of a separate SUV.
A man who works in the plumbing store in Karada, who gave his name only as Muhammad, told the New York Times he heard no warning of any kind before the shooting. “They shot from the back door,” he said. “The door opened, and they fired.”
He said the convoy moved out right away without checking to see what damage had been done. “They left immediately and did not give any help,” he said.
A policemen who heard the shots and came running to the scene told AFP that after the shooting the security guards "rode away like gangsters."
Muhammad told the NY Times he was angry, but not at the contractors. “We can’t blame the contractors,” he said. “We blame our officials for this. We blame the American government. They’re working here under the authority of the Iraqi government. They did not come here without authority.”
URG is an Australian company headquartered in Dubai that employs mostly Australian and New Zealanders on its security teams. Founded it 2000 as a risk management consultancy, the company discovered a new sense of purpose after the post-9/11 boom in demand for corporatized security solutions got underway.