Blackwater Reportedly Settles Series of Federal Lawsuits

Published January 07, 2010

| AP

The security firm formerly known as Blackwater has reached a settlement in a series of federal lawsuits in which dozens of Iraqis accused the company of cultivating a reckless culture that allowed innocent civilians to be killed.

Plaintiffs' attorney Susan Burke filed a motion in federal court late Wednesday requesting the cases be dismissed. The seven lawsuits cited a pattern of illegal activity, including several killings such as the 2007 shooting in Iraq's capital that left 17 Iraqis dead and strained relationships between Washington and Baghdad.

Burke didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. Blackwater, now known as Xe, released a statement saying the company was "pleased" that the settlement, in the works for months, had been affirmed.

"This enables Xe's new management to move the company forward free of the costs and distraction of ongoing litigation, and provides some compensation to Iraqi families," the company said.

Hassan Jabir, a lawyer who was wounded in the 2007 shooting, said that all of the victims' families and people who were injured agreed to the settlement and met with lawyers at a Baghdad hotel about a week ago. He hailed the settlement as a win for the plaintiffs.

"I feel like I achieved victory against the Blackwater firm," Jabir said.

Not all the plaintiffs appeared happy with the decision. Sami Hawas Hamoud Abu al-Iz also was wounded during the 2007 Nisoor Square incident along with his son. His mother was killed. He said the agreement came after the plaintiffs were told by their lawyers that there was a risk that they might not receive anything.

"All the victims' families signed the settlement papers under pressure, after we were informed that the Blackwater firm is broke and if you don't sign, you will get nothing," he said.

He said the firm offered $30,000 for each person who was wounded and $100,000 to the families of people who died.

The lawsuits sought compensation for deaths and injuries. Unlike federal probes that have specifically targeted company contractors for their actions, the civil lawsuits accused the Moyock, N.C.-based company — and founder Erik Prince — of producing a climate in which it was acceptable for innocent Iraqis to die.

"Mr. Prince personally directed and permitted a heavily-armed private army ... to roam the streets of Baghdad killing innocent civilians," one of the lawsuits said.

The full terms of the settlement were not released, and Blackwater declined to discuss them.

Relief from the lawsuits was a second major legal development for a company that has been beleaguered by federal, congressional and civil scrutiny. A federal judge last week dismissed charges against the Blackwater contractors that were involved in the Nisoor Square shooting.

That decision enraged many Iraqis, who saw it as proof of what they long suspected — that security contractors were above the law. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday vowed to seek punishment of the Blackwater guards, saying that Iraq would not "abandon our right to punish this firm."

The lawsuits covered that shooting and more, including the 2006 killing of an Iraqi guard, the February 2007 killings of three people guarding the Iraqi Media Network and another shooting that attorneys said left three people dead a week before the killings at Nisoor Square.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe last year, saying its brand had been tarnished by its work in Iraq. The company had contracts with the U.S. government to provide security for diplomats and other figures in Iraq, though executives have said the company is shifting its focus away from that type of work. Iraqi leaders last year refused to provide Blackwater a license to operate there.

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