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Biden pledges to pursue Blackwater appeal

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speak to the press after their meeting in Baghdad on Saturday. Biden met with several key Iraqi leaders to discuss the election.

Associated Press

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speak to the press after their meeting in Baghdad on Saturday. Biden met with several key Iraqi leaders to discuss the election.

BAGHDAD — Vice President Joe Biden promised Iraqi leaders on Saturday that the United States would appeal the dismissal of manslaughter charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security contractors involved in a deadly shooting here that has inflamed anti-American tensions.

Biden, tasked by the Obama administration to oversee policy in Iraq, made the statement after a day of meetings with Iraqi leaders that dealt, in part, with a political crisis that has erupted over the March 7 parliamentary elections. American officials view the vote, a barometer of the durability of Iraq's political system, as a crucial date in American plans to withdraw tens of thousands of combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.

The vice president expressed his "personal regret" for the Blackwater shooting in 2007, in which contractors guarding American diplomats opened fire in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 people, including women and children.

"A dismissal is not an acquittal," he said after meeting President Jalal Talabani.

Investigators had concluded that the guards fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified attack. The guards contended that they had been ambushed by insurgents and fired in self-defense.

In December, in a decision that was a blow to the Justice Department and unleashed anger and disbelief in Iraq, a federal judge threw out the five guards' indictment on manslaughter charges, citing misuse of their statements that violated their constitutional rights. The judge's scathing and detailed ruling was expected to make any appeal difficult.

"This is great news," Abdel-Amir Jihan, who was wounded in the shooting, said after hearing of Biden's announcement. "The court was not fair to us. We felt great injustice when we heard the verdict. It was not right to drop the charges against them."

Biden was scheduled to leave Saturday evening after a 24-hour visit that involved meetings with most of the pivotal players in the election crisis. That dispute erupted this month after a government commission barred more than 500 candidates, accusing them of supporting Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. While some leaders have insisted that the disqualifications adhered to Iraqi law, many Sunni Muslims have seen them as score-settling by religious Shiite parties who suffered under Baath Party rule, and American officials have worried that the move could impair the vote's legitimacy.

There was no breakthrough in the meetings, and Biden, who spent the day shuttling between meetings, stressed that the United States would not impose a solution.

Director of military supplier charged

The director of a British company that supplies bomb detectors to Iraq has been arrested on fraud charges, and the export of the devices has been banned, British government officials confirmed Saturday. Iraqi officials reacted with fury to the news, noting a series of horrific bombings in the past six months despite the widespread use of the bomb detectors at hundreds of checkpoints in the capital. But the Ministry of the Interior has not withdrawn the device from service, and police officers continue to use them. Iraqi officials said they would begin an investigation into why their government paid at least $85 million to the British company, ATSC Ltd., for at least 800 of the bomb detectors, called ADE 651s. American military officials and technical experts have said the ADE 651 was useless. It is a hand-held wand with no batteries or internal electronic components, ostensibly powered by the static electricity of the user, who needs to walk in place to charge it. The only moving part is what looks like a radio antenna on a swivel, which swings to point toward the presence of weapons or explosives. The suspect's identity was widely reported in the British press as Jim McCormick, managing director of ATSC Ltd., which operates out of a converted dairy in rural Somerset County, England.

Military hands over Anbar security

The Marine Corps on Saturday handed over security duties in Anbar province, once a cradle of the insurgency, to U.S. Army soldiers. The move formally ended the seven-year Marine presence in Iraq, in effect signaling the end of heavy combat operations. As many as 25,000 Marines were once in the country, and the remaining few thousand are expected to leave within weeks.

Deaths

As of Saturday, 4,373 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war. No new deaths were reported by the U.S. military last week.

Biden pledges to pursue Blackwater appeal 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 10:58pm]

    

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