A man lost his eye and two other people were wounded when private security contractors fired into a crowded taxi as it approached their convoy of sport utility vehicles in northern Iraq on Thursday.
The incident came less than two weeks after a shooting by another company killed two women in a taxicab here, and just over a month after guards with the private American security company Blackwater USA killed 17 people in a Baghdad square.
The shootings on Thursday took place when security guards working for the British company Erinys International were escorting employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a highway east of Kirkuk. The guards said that a car approached “at a high rate of speed,” according to a statement issued by the Corps of Engineers. When efforts to warn it off failed, the contractors fired into the vehicle, the statement said.
One of the occupants of the car, who was interviewed from a hospital bed in Kirkuk, said that after they fired, the security contractors pointed their guns at the car to discourage those inside from climbing out. The guards then drove away without offering medical help, said the man, Zairak Nori Qadir, whose right eye was hit by a bullet.
“They fired on us, and we never threatened them,” Qadir said. “They shot us and didn’t let us release ourselves from the car until they escaped and left us covered in blood.”
“Those are savages and criminals and killers,” he said.
A man who answered the phone at Erinys’ Middle East headquarters in Dubai referred questions to the Corps of Engineers. In its statement, the Army Corps said it would appoint an officer to investigate the shooting. “No further details are available at this time,” the statement said.
The incident carried the potential to inflame Iraqi opinion about the operations of private security contractors who travel Iraq’s roads in heavily armed convoys but are immune from Iraqi law.
Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, has demanded that Blackwater leave the country in the wake of the September shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The dispute threatens to undermine U.S. reconstruction efforts here, as civilian employees of the American government travel with private security rather than military protection.
Also on Thursday, thousands of Kurds marched in cities in northern Iraq to protest a decision by Turkey’s parliament to authorize military incursions against Kurdish separatist rebel bases in Iraq, a threat that could introduce a new military dimension to the Iraq war in the country’s north.
About 12,000 people marched in the cities of Erbil and Dahok, calling on the semiautonomous government in the Kurdish region to resist any Turkish military attacks. Marchers also expressed solidarity with the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and many European countries.
“We defend Kurdistan with our souls, and I won’t allow the Turkish troops to stain our beloved land,” said Jara Rikani, a high school student at the march in Dahok.