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More curbs on private Iraq guards

The Pentagon and State Department agree on more military oversight.

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Six weeks after a fatal shootout in a Baghdad square involving contractor guards from Blackwater USA, private security firms in Iraq may no longer be able to operate quite as privately as they used to.

And that is a good thing, too, say US officials and defense analysts. Placing such guards under Department of Defense oversight may mitigate any abusive behavior, as well as ensure better coordination with military activities.

At the same time, it remains unclear whether any Blackwater employee will ever be prosecuted for the Baghdad shootings, which Iraqi officials say left 17 civilians dead. And given current force levels, there is little chance that uniformed US troops themselves will take over the guards' protection duties.

"It's not a question of whether we ought to have [private contractors].

They are inevitable right now. The real question is, How do you make sure their overall activities are part of the overall strategy?" says Kathleen Hicks, a senior fellow in the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon and the State Department reached a general agreement that US military commanders in Baghdad will have more oversight of the private security contractors, which include Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp International.

Earlier in the week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had announced a series of changes, including assigning agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to accompany Blackwater convoys, the use of video cameras in convoy vehicles to record guard actions, and more restrictive rules for the use of force.

More control over convoys

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