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State Department Announces Joint U.S.-Iraq Commission to Investigate Iraq Private Security Shooting Incident

The State Department said Wednesday that a joint U.S.-Iraqi commission will be formed to investigate a weekend incident in Baghdad in which private security guards protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy are accused of killing Iraqi civilians.

Deputy spokesman Tom Casey declined to comment on conflicting reports of Sunday's incident offered by the Iraqi government and the company in question, Blackwater USA, but said the new panel would try to determine what happened.

"We're in conversations with the Iraqis on how we can find some mechanisms for looking at this issue in a joint way," Casey told reporters.

"There have been a number of questions that have been raised and we want to make sure that both we and the Iraqis have a common set of facts that we're working from and also that we can hopefully come to some common conclusions on how to proceed," he said.

An announcement about the commission, including how investigators would interview witnesses and compile and release their findings, could come later Wednesday, Casey said.

Earlier Wednesday, Iraq's prime minister disputed Blackwater's version of the shooting that left at least 11 people dead, and declared he would not tolerate "the killing of our citizens in cold blood."

Americans and Iraqis have offered widely differing accounts of the shooting, with Blackwater insisting that its guards returned fire against armed insurgents who were threatening American diplomats.

But The New York Times reported that a preliminary review by Iraq's Ministry of Interior found that Blackwater security guards fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman's call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.

The status of Blackwater, one of three private security companies that provide protection for U.S. diplomats in Iraq, remained unclear on Wednesday, despite Iraqi government statements that the firm's operating license had been suspended.

Casey said Washington still had not been formally notified of any action against Blackwater. But an official acknowledged that activities of the company's employees on the ground had been limited because of an order from the U.S. embassy restricting land travel by diplomats and other U.S. government civilian employees outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.