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2 Iraqi women killed by private security guards in Baghdad

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Posted: October 9, 2007 4:44 p.m.
Updated: October 24, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    BAGHDAD — Guards in a security convoy opened fire on a car at an intersection in central Baghdad on Tuesday, killing two Christian women before speeding away, police said. The Iraqi government said a Dubai-based private security company was behind the shootings.
    Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the Unity Resources Group had apologized after guards in four SUVs fired on a car carrying the two women, killing them instantly.
    Khalaf said the government and the company have both begun investigations and that initial findings showed the guards fired 19 bullets.
    ‘‘They apologized and said they are ready to meet all the legal commitments,’’ he said.
    Unity Resources Group, which has operated in Iraq since 2004, employs security professionals from the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
    A company spokesman said there was a shooting involving one of its security teams and it was working with Iraqi authorities to determine the circumstances.
    ‘‘The first information that we have is that our security team was approached at speed by a vehicle, which failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and a signal flare,’’ company spokesman Michael Priddin said in a statement. ‘‘Finally shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped.’’
    ‘‘We deeply regret this incident,’’ Priddin said. The statement did not mention any casualties.
    Across Iraq on Tuesday, violence claimed the lives of at least 44 people, including 19 who died in coordinated suicide car bombings in the north that targeted a police chief and a Sunni sheik.
    Tuesday’s shooting deaths in Baghdad seemed likely to increase calls for limits on private security firms, which have come under intense scrutiny since the Sept. 16 shooting deaths of as many as 17 Iraqi civilians allegedly by guards with Blackwater USA, the largest firm protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq. In that case, the American security company said its employees acted in self-defense.
    It was not clear what the Unity Resources Group convoy was doing Tuesday when the shootings occurred.
    The U.S. State Department said the convoy was not protecting American diplomats, but an embassy spokeswoman said an American nongovernmental organization may have been involved.
    ‘‘There may be a contractual relationship with a U.S. NGO,’’ U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said. ‘‘We don’t have anything more at the moment. We’re working on clarifying that.’’
    The women killed were in a white Oldsmobile that drove into the Masbah intersection in the central Karradah district as the convoy of three white and one gray SUVs was stopped about 100 yards away, according to a policeman who witnessed the shooting from a nearby checkpoint.
    The men in the SUVs threw a smoke bomb, apparently to warn the car against proceeding, said Riyadh Majid, the policeman. The woman driving the car tried to stop, but was killed along with the passenger when two guards in the convoy opened fire, Majid said.
    The pavement where the attack occurred was stained with blood and covered with shattered glass from the car windows.
    He said the convoy then raced away and Iraqi police came to collect the bodies and tow the car with blood still splattered on the white door to the local police station.
    Another policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said the guards were masked and wearing khaki uniforms. He said one of them left the vehicle and started to shoot at the car while another opened fire from the open back door of a separate SUV.
    The victims were identified by relatives and police as Marou Awanis, born in 1959, as Geneva Jalal, born in 1977.
    ‘‘These are innocent people killed by people who have no heart or consciousness. The Iraqi people have no value to them,’’ said a man who was part of a group of relatives gathered with a Christian priest at the local police station.
    The man said Awanis had three daughters. ‘‘Who will now raise the girls? They are now motherless,’’ he said.
    Awanis’ sister-in-law, Anahet Bougous, said the woman had been using her car to taxi government employees to work to help raise money for her three daughters.
    ‘‘May God take revenge on those killers,’’ Bougous said, crying outside the police station. ‘‘Now, who is going to raise (the daughters)?’’
    In the northern oil hub of Beiji, attackers drove a minibus laden with explosives into the house of a local police chief and nearly simultaneously detonated an explosives-packed Toyota Land Cruiser outside the home of a leading member of the local Awakening Council, a group of Iraqis who have turned against extremists in the area.
    A Sunni mosque about 100 yards away from the police chief’s house was damaged and three of its guards were among at least 19 people killed, according to police and hospital officials.
    Iraqi and American officials said the two men targeted survived the attack.
    Saleh Jassim Moussa said two of his relatives from the neighborhood were killed.
    ‘‘It was a really huge explosion, we panicked and ran out but for minutes, we couldn’t see anything because of the heavy smoke,’’ said Moussa, 38, a government employee who was reached by phone. ‘‘We’re still digging through the rubble, looking for others.’’
    Beiji is in the Sunni province of Salahuddin, which along with the vast Anbar province to the west is part of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The heartland has been the home base for the Sunni-led insurgency, but the U.S. military has cited recent success in getting local tribal leaders to join forces against the terror network.
    ‘‘This is yet another failed attempt to break the will of the Iraqi people who just want to go on with their lives without violence, raise their children, earn a living and coexist together in a peaceful manner,’’ said Lt. Col. Michael O. Donnelly, military spokesman for northern Iraq.
    Associated Press writers Katarina Kratovac and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this story.

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