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Iraqi Toll in Blackwater Shooting Rises to 20

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 Iraqi Toll in Blackwater Shooting Rises to 20
The private military contractor Blackwater is now believed to have killed twenty Iraqi civilians in a mass-shooting Sunday in Baghdad. The Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license amidst reports nine civilians were killed when Blackwater guards opened fire. Blackwater says it responded after coming under attack from a roadside bomb. But in its initial report on the shooting, Iraq’s Interior Ministry says the guards shot at a small vehicle that failed to make way for Blackwater’s convoy to pass. An Iraqi couple and their infant were killed in the attack. The New York Times reports video footage of the shooting shows the child burned to the mother’s body after their car caught fire. Blackwater guards and helicopters are then believed to have fired indiscriminately. One survivor of the attack told McClatchy newspapers the Blackwater guards shot at a gathering of maintenance workers, two more cars, and a mini-bus full of Iraqi girls. Both the survivor and another witness say they did not hear any explosions or gunfire before the Blackwater guards began shooting.

Blackwater Ban Prompts U.S. to Halt Officials’ Movement
The Blackwater ban has underscored the central role of private military companies in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. After the ban was imposed, the US Embassy immediately announced it would suspend all movement of diplomatic personnel around Iraq. Blackwater operates under a multi-million dollar contract to guard senior U.S. officials in Iraq.

Iraq May Ease Blackwater Ban
Some are speculating the Iraqi government has already backed down on enforcing the ban. An Iraqi government spokesperson told CNN the ban is not meant indefinitely and suggested it could be lifted if Blackwater agrees to respect Iraqi law.

Blackwater Accused of Shooting Iraqi in Hilla
Meanwhile, Blackwater is now being accused of another fatal shooting of an Iraqi civilian. An Iraqi engineer living in Britain has revealed Blackwater guards shot his seventy-five year old father in the southern Iraqi town of Hilla last month. Safaa Rabee says his father had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. But Rabee says the last vehicle in the convoy opened fire when his father pulled back on to the road. An Iraqi police chief told Rabee he has no legal recourse to pursue his father’s killers.

50,000 Iraqis Displaced Since July
In other Iraq news, new figures show the number of displaced Iraqis his risen by about fifty-thousand since July. The International Organization for Migration says more than two million, two-hundred twenty-five thousand Iraqis have fled their homes since the US invasion.

State Dept. IG Accused of Covering Up Iraq Fraud
One of the Bush administration’s top oversight officials is being accused of repeatedly thwarting probes of contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Congressmember Henry Waxman said State Department inspector general Howard Krongard has censored reports and closed investigations to avoid embarrassing the White House. Krongard is accused of refusing to send investigators to Iraq and Afghanistan to probe three billion dollars in contracts. He’s also said to have personally intervened to clear labor abuse charges against the lead contractor building the US Embassy in Baghdad. The allegations are based on testimony from seven current and former members of Krongard’s staff, as well as private emails. Krongard took the job in May 2005. He had no previous experience at the State Department. 

Florida Police Taser, Arrest Student at Kerry Lecture
Police at the University of Florida are being accused of censorship and excessive force after tasering a student at a lecture by Democratic Senator John Kerry. Twenty-one year old journalism major Andrew Meyer was apprehended as he tried to ask Kerry about African American disenfranchisement in the 2004 presidential elections. Meyer was clutching a copy of the investigative journalist Greg Palast’s book “Armed Madhouse.” In full view of a packed hall, police officers cut off Meyer’s microphone, removed him from the room, and shocked him with a stun-gun. Meyer was later arrested and charged with resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. He was released Tuesday morning after spending the night in jail. Hours later, some three hundred University of Florida students marched on campus in protest.

Bolton: US Would Back Israeli Attack on Iran
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton has declared the Bush administration would support an Israeli attack on Iran. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Bolton said: “We’re talking about a clear message to Iran -- Israel has the right to self-defense -- and that includes offensive operations against WMD facilities that pose a threat to Israel. The United States would justify such attacks.”

Israel Cuts Power, Fuel to “Enemy Entity” Gaza
Meanwhile in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government says its declared Gaza an ‘enemy entity’ and will disrupt its power and fuel supplies. Israeli officials called the move a response to Palestinian rocket fire. The officials called the steps “civilian levers” that will help pressure Hamas leaders to crack down. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also reported to have said Israel is moving closer to a new attack on Gaza with each passing day. Israel says it will hold off on disrupting Gaza’s water supply for now. Hamas officials say Israel’s plans amount to collective punishment and are seen as a declaration of war.