Security Firm Had US Links

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A woman and a child inspect a car with blood splattered on the door after two Iraqi women were shot to death in central Karada, Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007.

The security contractor accused of shooting two Iraqis in Baghdad on Tuesday was working indirectly for a branch of the U.S. government. According to the State Department, the company, Unity Resources Group — which is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates — was providing protection to RTI, a U.S. nonprofit organization under contract to work in Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The shooting occurred at 1:40 p.m. in the Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada. According to the Iraq interior ministry, two Iraqi Christian women were killed. The convoy had just finished dropping off an employee of RTI and was returning to its base of operations when the engagement occurred, according to a spokeswoman for RTI. According to its website, RTI has "supported efforts to strengthen government in Iraq" since April 2003, "working under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)."

"USAID does not direct the security arrangements of its contractors," said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. The contractors themselves, said Cooper, are "responsible for the safety and well-being of their employees." A statement from Unity Resources said the group was "aware that there has been a shooting incident... involving one of [its] security teams" and it was "working with the Iraqi authorities to determine the outcome of [the] incident."

The statement added that, from what it had gathered, Unity's security team had been approached "at speed by a vehicle that failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and a signal flare. Finally, shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped." Unity said, "We deeply regret this incident." Said Cooper: "The State Department extends its sympathy to families of the victims. We are in contact with the Iraqi authorities concerning this incident." For its part, RTI reiterated that none of its own staff were "involved or present when the incident occured," having already been dropped off by Unity.

Private security firms, for the most part staffed and run by non-Iraqis, have been under intense scrutiny since the Blackwater incident on Sept. 16, which resulted in the death of several Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi government has said that its investigation showed that the Blackwater opened fire without provocation and has asked that the guards involved be put on trial. Foreign security contractors have, until now, enjoyed extraterritorial privileges and have not been subjected to Iraqi law.