Family questions Iraq security firm

The brother of a woman killed by a security firm in Iraq speaks to Al Jazeera.

The URG has been involved in number of shooting incidents [AFP]

The brother of a woman killed by the Australian security company Unity Resources Group (URG) says he will not stop until those responsible are held accountable for their actions.
Paul Manook’s comments come as Iraqi officials demand an explanation from URG over the killing of Manook’s sister Marou Awanis and another Iraqi Christian woman.

Manook told Al Jazeera on Friday that he and his family intend to pursue legal action against the company.

“I will [pursue legal action], but it is not only compensation I am after. It is a review, and a thorough investigation into the practices of these companies in Iraq,” he said.

Manook said he had received no communication from URG since the incident on Tuesday.

According to Manook, who is an Iraqi doctor currently living in Britain, Marou Awanis had not provoked the guards into firing at the car she was travelling in Baghdad.

He says the details of the incident are sketchy but says his family in Iraq insist the car she was driving was following the signals given by the guards in the convoy.

The URG was guarding RTI International, an American non-government organisation, which is carrying out work on behalf of the US state department and the US Aid agency.

Manook said: “Whatever attempts were made to warn her before opening fire were clearly inadequate.”

Awanis, a former scientist with the Iraqi agriculture ministry, is survived by her three daughters. Her husband Azad, an architect, died two years ago.

She acted as an unofficial taxi driver taking her two eldest daughters and the neighbour’s children to university, thereby supplementing her small income following her husband’s death.

Blurry accounts

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Manook also questioned whether private contractors in Iraq have received adequate training.

“These people don’t understand Arab culture, or the sensitivities of the local population. I don’t think they have proper training in these conditions, and seem to kill people without restraint.”

A local witness said that Awanis may have panicked.

Basim Mohammed, a shopkeeper, said: “They fired a warning shot when they were about 80m away, which probably made them panic because they went forward a little bit and [security guards] started firing at her from all directions.”



An Iraqi policeman at the scene said the convoy sped off “like gangsters” after the shooting.

Troubled history 

It is not the first time the URG has shot a civilian when they failed to keep clear of a protected convoy.

Last year, a URG contractor killed Kays Juma, an Australian-Iraqi when he failed to stop at a security checkpoint.

URG later said it had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The security firm has been subjected to countless attacks in Iraq.

Gordon Conroy, its co-director, and a former Australian Special Air Service (SAS) commander, said driving through Baghdad was like being on a Mad Max film set. 

“We have been caught by IED (improvised explosive device) ambushes, rocketed and mortared in our accommodation, caught in protests that have turned violent and turned on our men,” he said. 

In January, an attack on three URG vehicles killed Andrea Parhamovich, 28, an adviser to the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.

‘Morality’ questioned

But Manook says the Australian government needs to investigate the activities of companies owned by Australian nationals.

He said: “The [John] Howard government needs to scrutinise companies in Iraq, and not just monitor the troop presence in the country. It needs to be aware of what Australians do in the Middle East.”

“Western governments also need to ask themselves whether the use of private armies is morally justified.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Alexander Downer, Australia’s foreign minister, said the country would respond to any Iraqi requests for co-operation in investigating the shooting.

Amid the killings of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater, a US private security firm, “the main question”, Manook asks, is whether Western countries will continue to privatise future conflicts.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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