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Rice to get briefing as team returns from Blackwater probe

  • Story Highlights
  • State Department team is expected to brief Condoleezza Rice next week
  • FBI team investigating Blackwater shootings is believed to be in Iraq still
  • Iraqi probe has accused Blackwater guards of "premeditated murder"
  • Joint U.S.-Iraqi commission will review findings, make recommendations
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A State Department team is back in Washington after more than two weeks in Baghdad investigating diplomatic security practices, including the use of private security firms such as Blackwater USA, a department spokesman said.

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A car burned during the events of September 16 still sits near Baghdad's Nusoor Square eight days later.

Last month's shootings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards prompted the investigation.

Iraqi officials said 17 people, including women and children, were killed and 27 were wounded when Blackwater guards fired on motorists around Baghdad's Nusoor Square on September 16.

The Iraqi investigation concluded the shootings were an act of "premeditated murder" and recommended that Blackwater pay $8 million to the families of each of the people killed.

Blackwater officials have insisted the guards fired their weapons after coming under fire a half-hour after a nearby bombing.

"There was definitely incoming small-arms fire from insurgents," Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince told CNN on Sunday, adding there was no "deliberate violence."

Patrick Kennedy, an assistant secretary of state, headed the State Department investigation team. He likely will brief Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the findings next week after she returns from a Middle East trip, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi commission will review the results of the U.S. investigation and the Iraqi government's probe, the U.S. Embassy said.

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U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Natango said policy recommendations would be up to that panel. "We need to let the joint commission do its work," Natango said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Tuesday he wanted Blackwater out of his country, an aide said.

Al-Maliki and most Iraqi officials are satisfied with the Iraqi findings that Blackwater guards randomly shot civilians without provocation and are insisting that the U.S.-based contractor leave the country, al-Maliki adviser Sami al-Askari said.

Almost immediately after arriving in Baghdad late last month, Kennedy proposed steps to ensure that "robust" procedures are in place to improve contractor accountability, and Rice ordered them implemented, the State Department said.

FBI agents sent to investigate the shootings are believed to be in Iraq still.

"I will be anxious to see the analysis of [Blackwater's] performance," President Bush told reporters Wednesday. "There's a lot of studying going on, both inside Iraq and out, as to whether or not people have violated rules of engagement.

"A firm like Blackwater provides a valuable service. They protect people's lives. And I appreciate the sacrifice and the service that the Blackwater employees have made."

The State Department relies on Blackwater contractors to provide security for U.S. Embassy staff and has paid the company more than $830 million since 2004, according to the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Zain Verjee contributed to this report.

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