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Gates mulls central authority over Iraq security contractors

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 17, 2007
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is mulling a move to bring all armed security contractors in Iraq under a single authority to exert greater control over them, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The issue has come to the fore after an incident last month in Baghdad in which Blackwater USA guards working for the State Department killed at least 11 civilians.

The killings outraged the Iraqi government and set off investigations and reviews, including one by the Pentagon into the military's role in overseeing its private security contractors.

The probe found that military commanders felt that "they do not have complete visibility on the actions, the movements, the performance of armed security contractors in the field," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

As a result, Gates believes "it is worth exploring whether or not there needs to be one central entity that would at least be in charge of the mission of all armed security contractors in the field," he said.

Morrell said Gates had not yet made up his own mind on the matter and wanted to discuss it with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been traveling abroad.

"He is certainly sympathetic to his commanders who believe there needs to be greater visibility and greater accountability over all armed security contractors in the field, not just those who work for the Department of Defense," he said.

The Defense Department employs some 7,300 private security contractors in Iraq, none from Blackwater USA.

The New York Times, which reported on the issue Wednesday, said the idea is facing resistance from the State Department, which wants to keep control over the 2,500 private security contracts it employs in Iraq, about 800 of them from Blackwater USA.

"I think it's premature to describe it as a dispute, they have even had a chance to discuss it yet," said Morrell.

Among the issues that remain unresolved is who would be in charge of the contractors, and under what legal rules they could be held accountable, he said.

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SKorea set to decide on troops in Iraq
Seoul (AFP) Oct 17, 2007
South Korea's defence minister said Wednesday the government would decide this week whether to extend the stay of its troops in Iraq.

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