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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blackwater's Exit Would Leave 'Security Vacuum' in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi official said Sunday that Blackwater USA's exit would create a "security vacuum" in Baghdad and that U.S. and Iraqi officials were instead working on revamping regulations governing private security companies after a deadly shooting of civilians.

The killing of at least 11 civilians allegedly involving Blackwater guards near a square in central Baghdad has thrown a spotlight on the practices of security contractors, who have angered Iraqis with their aggressive tactics.

The North Carolina-based company has insisted that its guards came under fire and shot back only in defense.

Following the Sept. 16 shooting, the Iraqi Interior Ministry banned Blackwater from working in Iraq but rolled back after the United States agreed to a joint investigation. The company resumed guarding U.S. convoys Friday.

But officials said new rules had to be put in place. "If we expel this company immediately, there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops off the battlefield," said Tahseen Sheikhly, a government spokesman.

"This will create a security imbalance in securing Baghdad."

Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal said U.S. authorities had ignored several complaints about Blackwater's behavior.

"We tried several times to contact the U.S. government through administrative and diplomatic channels to complain. ... Our complaints went nowhere," he said.

n Blackwater on Saturday denied any involvement in illegal weapons smuggling through Iraq to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, responding to reports the private security contractor is a target of federal prosecutors.

Officials said Friday that prosecutors were working with Pentagon and State Department auditors. While the officials said the case was in the early stage, they added the auditors have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges.