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Blackwater Says Its Employees Were Lured Into Iraqi Ambush

By David Barstow

The New York Times -- The four private security contractors killed, burned and mutilated in Fallujah last week were in fact lured into a carefully planned ambush by men they believed to be friendly members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, according to Patrick Toohey, a senior executive at the security firm, Blackwater USA.

The Iraqi men, Toohey said, promised the Blackwater-led convoy safe and swift passage through the dangerous city, but instead, a few kilometers later, they suddenly blocked off the road, preventing any escape from waiting gunmen.

“The truth is we got led into this ambush,” Toohey, vice president for government relations at Blackwater, said in an interview, offering the company’s first detailed account of the attack.

“We were set up,” he said.

Two senior Pentagon officials said on Thursday they could not independently confirm the conclusions of the Blackwater investigation, and that a separate military inquiry was still ongoing.

Toohey said his company’s investigation of the incident, which included interviews with convoy drivers who survived the ambush, had not yet determined whether the Blackwater employees were led into Fallujah by active members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, or whether they were led into the city by imposters wearing defense corps uniforms. But the convoy, on a mission to pick up kitchen equipment, had little cause for suspicion: The Iraqi escort was pre-arranged and met with the convoy as planned at an intersection just east of Fallujah.

Imposters or not, Toohey said, the incident underscored deepening concern about the reliability of the Iraqi civil defense forces at a time when coalition troops are fighting in many parts of Iraq to suppress militant Sunni and Shiite groups.

Toohey’s account, if confirmed, could deflect blame for the incident from Blackwater. Yet the company’s initial findings are in line with recent complaints from senior American officials about Iraqi forces.