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US security firm ends operations in Baghdad

THE Baghdad contract for the security firm once known as Blackwater Worldwide ended yesterday, the United States Embassy said, although the company will temporarily continue operations elsewhere in Iraq.

The confirmation of the end of the company's operations in Baghdad was a major step toward ending the presence of the firm that has become a flash point for Iraqi anger after a deadly 2007 shooting by its contractors.

However, State Department officials have said the company will remain in some areas of southern Iraq into the summer and that its aviation service, Presidential Airways, will provide air security for US diplomatic convoys into September.

US Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said the company's task order for Baghdad ended yesterday and a new security provider, Triple Canopy, was taking over.

Ziadeh wouldn't comment on specifics, saying only that the company has other task orders that "will come to an end once they expire, which will be soon."

The Iraqi government denied the US company, which has changed its name to Xe, a license in January. But it has continued operations protecting American diplomats, raising questions over the strength of Iraq's sovereignty as it remains heavily dependent on the US for security.

Iraqis have long complained about the heavy-handed behavior of security contractors such as Blackwater and other companies. That anger peaked in September 2007, when Blackwater guards opened fire in Baghdad's Nisoor Square, killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

Five Blackwater guards face manslaughter and weapons charges in the shooting, which prosecutors say was an unprovoked attack on civilians. The shooting strained relations between Baghdad and Washington and led Iraqi leaders to order Blackwater out of the country.


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