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Blackwater won't get Iraq contract renewed

THE United States State Department has told Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm whose guards are accused of killing Iraqi civilians while protecting US diplomats, that it will not renew its contract in Iraq.

The move was not a surprise following Iraq's decision to deny a license to Blackwater, which drew intense criticism after its guards opened fire in Baghdad traffic in 2007, killing at least 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty in US court to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter over the incident, while five others are awaiting trial next year on manslaughter and other charges. The firm denies wrongdoing.

"The department notified Blackwater in writing (on Thursday) that we do not plan to renew the company's existing contract for protective security details in Iraq," said State Department spokesman Richard Aker.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell was unable to confirm the State Department decision. "We understand that the State Department is exploring its options, and we are awaiting direction from our customer," she said.

A US official who spoke on the condition that he not be named said the US and Iraqi governments were discussing a transition period during which Blackwater's work in Iraq will be phased out.

The official said Blackwater will continue to work for the US government elsewhere in the world.

Blackwater employs heavily armed guards to protect US diplomats in Iraq under a State Department contract.


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