Briton pleads not guilty in Iraq shooting

A British security contractor told an Iraqi court Sunday that he was acting in self-defense when he shot two co-workers, claiming that they had threatened to kill him after a drunken brawl in Baghdad's Green Zone.

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, said he is innocent of murder in the 2009 shooting. He is the first Westerner to be tried by an Iraqi court since the start of the Iraq war nearly eight years ago.

In an hour of dramatic court testimony, Fitzsimons admitted to a three-judge panel that he shot the two ArmorGroup workers during a quarrel in the Green Zone. He said all three men had been drinking whiskey before the fight broke out.

He said he was held at gunpoint by British co-worker Paul McGuigan while Australian contractor Darren Hoare pushed him to the ground.

"I was seconds away from my death so I pulled my pistol," Fitzsimons testified, gesturing with his arms and body to show the judges how the fight occurred. An Iraqi security guard repeatedly poked Fitzsimons to ask him to stop moving his body so wildly.

"I shouted twice (for McGuigan) to put down the weapon," Fitzsimons said. "He didn't respond to my commands, my requests, so I made a decision. I shot him twice in the chest."

Then he acted out the shooting for the judges. "Bang, bang in his chest," Fitzsimons said.

Fitzsimons said he fired a third shot in McGuigan's face, and got into a wrestling match with Hoare.

Hoare "was trying to push the pistol to my throat to kill me ... and while we were wrestling I fired two shots in the chest," Fitzsimons said. "I made the decision and pulled the trigger."

Covered with blood, Fitzsimons fled the scene and was running toward the British Embassy when an Iraqi guard who was at a guard post pointed his Kalashinkov rifle at him and asked him to stop. Fitzsimons shot him in his left thigh.

Fitzsimons is charged with two counts of murder for shooting the British and Australian contractors and with attempting to kill the Iraqi guard. He could receive the death penalty if convicted on the murder charges.

In court, Fitzsimons stood behind a wooden fence with a security guard closely watching him. He was clean shaven and wore a dark blue Western suit, gray tie and shirt.

He repeatedly asked the judges to let him talk about his mental condition after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by an Iraqi medical committee. But the judges refused, saying they were well aware of Fitzsimons' condition.

"This is not fair," Fitzsimons said. "I don't believe it is a fair trial."

Fitzsimons pleaded not guilty to the killings but asked the judges to consider a plea agreement that would convict him on manslaughter charges, which would carry far lesser penalties. Iraqi law requires defendants to enter their formal pleas at the end of trial.

The judges' verdict is expected Feb. 20 as the court weighs whether Fitzsimons' mental condition should be considered in his defense.

McGuigan's fiancee, Nicci Prestage, 37, said McGuigan had met Fitzsimons only a few hours before the shooting. She denied that McGuigan had been drunk and fighting.

"It is both frustrating and upsetting to hear there will be yet another delay before we have the outcome of the trial," Prestage said.