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Blackwater says it could leave security job in Iraq within 72 hours

MOYOCK, N.C. — Blackwater Worldwide, which guards American diplomats in Iraq, said Thursday it would be prepared to leave that country within 72 hours after Iraqi officials denied the North Carolina-based company an operating license because of a deadly shooting in Baghdad.

But Blackwater founder Erik Prince told the Associated Press that while losing the State Department contract would hurt the company, the move would cause more harm to the diplomats it has protected since soon after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi officials said the lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead led to its decision.

Five former Blackwater guards have pleaded not guilty to federal charges in the United States that include 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter.

Candidates killed: Gunmen apparently targeting political candidates staged attacks around Iraq on Thursday, leaving at least three people dead as Iraqi forces began imposing a full-scale security clampdown in advance of voting for provincial council seats on Saturday. In Baghdad, a Sunni candidate, Omer Farooq al-Ani, was killed in a drive-by shooting. In Mandli, Diyala Province, Abbas Farhan, another Sunni candidate, was killed along with two others. And in the northern city of Mosul, gunmen fired from a passing car, killing candidate and former army officer Hazim Salim, a member of the Unity List, a group of independent Sunni politicians.

Iraqi Obama: Salah al-Rekhayis, with the help of his campaign manager-sister and brother, hopes to win one of the 35 seats in Basra. His inspiration: President Obama. Rekhayis is one of an estimated 2 million Iraqis who have African roots — and one of only 800 in his town. "Obama is the reason I decided to run. We both have African roots," said al-Rekhayis. "We never had the same opportunities as other Iraqis before, but Obama gave me the push to run after he took the leadership of the most powerful country in the world."

Blackwater says it could leave security job in Iraq within 72 hours 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 11:04pm]
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