Source AP ©

British private security team opens fire on coming vehicle to protect members of US Army Corps of Engineers

A British private security team protecting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened fire on a speeding vehicle after issuing warnings, wounding at least four civilians in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Iraqi officials said three Iraqi civilians were wounded in the latest incident of a Western security company opening fire on Iraqis, prompting angry demands for improved oversight on the heavily armed teams. A U.S. military spokesman in northern Iraq later said four people were wounded and evacuated by American troops, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The latest shooting incident occurred at 10:45 a.m. 26 kilometers (16 miles) east of Kirkuk, when a vehicle approached the private security team at high speed, the military said.

Security guards with Erinys Iraq Ltd., a British security company, "initiated escalating warning procedures under the rules for the use of force, resulting in an alleged injury to a civilian occupant of the vehicle," the Army Corps of Engineers said. It said the incident was under investigation.

An employee of Erinys' Middle East office in Dubai said only one civilian was "slightly injured" in the shooting incident, which occurred on the road between Kirkuk and the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah .

The employee, who spoke only anonymously because he was not authorized to comment, said an Erinys security guard stopped to help the wounded civilian. The company, he said, has provided security for the Corps, which employes both civilians and members of the military for the past four years.

An Associated Press photo showed a white and orange car that appeared to be a taxi with at least six bullet holes in the windshield. Another photo showed doctors treating a man with a bandaged head and a pool of blood spilling from the hospital table in the emergency room.

Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir, a police spokesman in Kirkuk , 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad , and witnesses said local the contractors were in black SUVs. Qadir said three civilians were seriously wounded.

Saman Khalid, a 23-year-old selling black market gasoline on the side of the road, said the SUVs were speeding and men opened fire on the car when it tried to pass them.

He said the three people in the car, including one woman, "seemed to be in critical condition and bloody."

Investigations are under way into the Sept. 16 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA guards protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy in Baghdad, and the Oct. 9 shooting deaths of two Armenian Christian women by security contractors working for Australian-owned Unity Resources Group. Both companies said their employees were responding to what they perceived as a threat.

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