Iraq contractors accused in shootings

By DEBORAH HASTINGS, AP National Writer Sat Aug 11, 2:10 PM ET

There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers — and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks. They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.

Not one has faced charges or prosecution.

There is great confusion among legal experts and military officials about what laws — if any — apply to Americans in this force of at least 48,000.

They operate in a decidedly gray legal area. Unlike soldiers, they are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.

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