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Condoleezza Rice orders investigation of Blackwater incident in Iraq

Condoleezza Rice U.S. Secretary of State has ordered a review board to visit Iraq next week to assess U.S. diplomatic security practices there following a deadly Baghdad shooting incident involving private Blackwater USA guards protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy.

Led by Patrick Kennedy, one of the most senior management experts in the U.S. foreign service, the panel will leave early next week and present an interim report by Oct. 5, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.

Kennedy's team will "begin establishing some baseline set of facts about these contractor operations" and report back to Rice, McCormack said.

He quoted Rice as saying she wanted Kennedy's assessment to "be 360 (degrees), to be serious, and to be really probing."

McCormack also said the department soon would name several outside independent experts to join Kennedy's review board.

"Based on Pat's work, as well as their own assessments, the independent panel will then make a set of recommendations to Secretary Rice several weeks from now," he said.

McCormack did not identify the independent experts to be tapped, but said they could be named as early as Friday.

Several former senior diplomats and military officers have been approached about joining the panel, officials said.

Rice set up the review board last week in the wake of the Sept. 16 incident involving security guards from private contractor Blackwater USA in which at least 11 Iraqis, including civilians, were killed. Blackwater is the largest of three private companies contracted by the State Department to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq.