WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday ordered new measures to improve government oversight of private guards who protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, including cultural awareness training for contractors and a board to investigate any future killings.
The steps, recommended by an independent review panel she created after last month's deadly Baghdad shooting involving Blackwater USA, also would tighten the State Department's rules of engagement and bring them into line with those of the military.
The State Department will set up panels that include security officials and others to look into each shooting or other use of deadly force by private guards and organize rapid response teams to investigate shooting incidents.
The department will also require contractors to have Arabic speakers on hand.
Another step Rice has ordered is the appointment of a senior diplomat to oversee Iraq security operations, State Department officials said. That job, a temporary assignment for now, will be held by Steve Browning, a senior foreign service office who is now U.S. Ambassador to Uganda.
The moves announced Tuesday are among those that Rice opted to make on her own, but further changes are likely after she meets later this week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Report faults accountibility
Some of the review panel's recommendations would require joint action with the Pentagon, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Rice was briefed Monday on the panel's findings and the State Department released the document Tuesday.
"Prompt measures should be taken to strengthen the coordination, oversight and accountability aspects of the State Department's security practices in Iraq in order to reduce the likelihood that future incidents will occur," the report said.
Patrick Kennedy, a State Department official who led the review, told reporters that the group focused on management and policy, not possible wrongdoing by Blackwater or others. The shooting in a Baghdad square last month killed 17 Iraqi civilians. Iraqi authorities claim Blackwater guards fired unprovoked, but Blackwater's founder has said his employees were fired on first.
The new review board for deadly incidents would have the power to refer cases to the Justice Department, Kennedy said.
The report also identified a gap that left private guards for diplomats in Iraq outside the direct control of U.S. civilian or military law and outside Iraqi law, a U.S. official said.
"The legal framework for providing proper oversight of personal protective services contractors is inadequate," the report said.
No plans to eliminate guards
The panel made no specific recommendations about what should happen to Blackwater, whose guards were escorting an official from the U.S. Embassy when the shooting occurred.
The killings have outraged Iraqis and focused attention on the shadowy rules surrounding heavily armed private guards.
The recommendations would apply to management of all private security contractors in Iraq, and recognize that it is impractical to eliminate such protection altogether. The military has resisted assuming responsibility for guarding large numbers of U.S. officials, and the State Department's own security force is too small and already stretched too thin.
Earlier this month, Rice accepted several preliminary suggestions to improve oversight of security contractors, including having federal agents accompany Blackwater-escorted diplomatic convoys, installing video cameras in security vehicles and improving and recording audio communication between diplomats and the military.
Rice said late Monday she wanted to speak with Gates before moving to formalize the unified control recommendation but praised the authors of the review for their work and hinted she would endorse many, if not all, of their findings.
The Iraqi government is demanding that Blackwater be expelled from the country within six months and that its employees be subject to Iraqi law.
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