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Blackwater founder defends his company's contractors in Iraq

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CAPITOL HILL (AP) -- The founder of a security firm that's come under scrutiny for its record in Iraq is vigorously defending the company.

Erik Prince of Blackwater USA tells Congress that 30 of its contractors have been killed while trying to defend U.S. diplomats in Iraq. And he says no Americans have died while in the company's protection.

His remarks were prepared for a congressional hearing today. It comes in the wake of a September 16th shootout in which 11 Iraqis died.

Prince maintains that his guards were responding to hostile fire during that incident. And he's disputing the finding of a congressional report that concluded that Blackwater is an out-of-control outfit that is indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. He says he considers the loss of innocent life to be "tragic."

Yesterday, the FBI opened an investigation into the mid-September shootings. They were the latest fatal shootings in Iraq involving Blackwater.

The firm is the largest of the State Department's three private security contractors. The congressional report says it's had more shooting incidents than the other two companies combined.

On the Net: http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071001121609.pdf

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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