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.