IRAQ: US Private Guards Kill Baghdad Ambulance Crewman

The incident drew an angry response from Iraqi officials, who often complain private foreign guards kill civilians with impunity
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BAGHDAD - American security contractors shot dead an Iraqi ambulance crewman on Tuesday when they opened fire on his vehicle after a roadside bomb blasted their convoy.


Two American civilians were wounded in the incident in north Baghdad, the U.S. military said.


The incident drew an angry response from Iraqi officials, who often complain private foreign guards kill civilians with impunity. Tens of thousands of armed foreigners work in Iraq licensed by U.S. authorities and beyond the reach of Iraqi law.


Reuters journalists saw the dead crewman sprawled in the passenger seat of the ambulance. Clearly marked with a red crescent symbol, its windows had been shattered by bullets.


"A civilian contractor security firm returned fire after one of its convoys was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), apparently killing an ambulance driver responding to the scene," a U.S. military spokesman said. "Two U.S. civilians were wounded in the attack."


He declined to name the contractors involved or say if any action would be taken against them. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said the security guards drove off after the shooting. One damaged armoured four-wheel drive vehicle was left behind.


The surviving driver of the ambulance told Reuters at the scene he and his fellow crewman were taking a stretcher case to hospital when the bomb blasted the convoy of unmarked contractors' cars travelling on the same stretch of road.


"We were taking a case to hospital when a bomb went off close to a convoy of Americans that was passing," said the driver, who gave his name only as Abu Ali for fear of reprisals.


"They opened fire and shot him in the heart," he said, declining to name his dead colleague.


"We are an ambulance crew, who help people when there are bombings. What did we do wrong?"


Asked about the incident, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said: "The Americans killed the ambulance driver. They just killed him and left. They did not stop to check."


Video footage posted on the Internet last year apparently showing Western security guards firing on civilian cars in Baghdad, accompanied by a musical soundtrack, provoked new accusations that some such contractors were out of control.


Largely employed to protect operations being carried out under U.S. government contract -- many work directly on U.S. military bases -- private security outfits are ubiquitous in parts of Iraq. Some contractors complain that an irresponsible minority of "cowboys" is giving them a bad name.


U.S. troops have also often been accused by Iraqis of opening fire on passing civilians after roadside bomb blasts. (Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla)

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