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State Department: FBI takes lead in Blackwater probe

  • Story Highlights
  • Move "made sense" with arrival in Iraq of FBI team from D.C., says State Dept.
  • Decision doesn't indicate "particular direction based on what we found so far"
  • Diplomatic security agents, U.S. military to protect FBI in Iraq
  • FBI probing Blackwater killings of up to 20 civilians in Baghdad last month
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From Elise Labott
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI has assumed the lead from the State Department on the investigation into last month's Baghdad shootings involving contractors from the U.S. security firm Blackwater USA, the State Department said Thursday.

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In this September 24 photo, an Iraqi looks at a car that was destroyed during the September 16 incident.

The State Department had been internally discussing the possibility of the FBI taking the lead for "some time," and the transition "made sense" with the arrival in Iraq of the FBI team from Washington, spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The State Department's Diplomatic Security Service would be "working closely" with the FBI agents, McCormack said.

Blackwater, a high-profile U.S. security contractor working in Iraq, says its guards responded properly to an attack September 16 on a U.S. Embassy convoy.

But Iraqi authorities say Blackwater contractors fired indiscriminately at civilians, killing as many as 20 at two scenes in western Baghdad.

The deadly incident produced an outcry in Iraq and raised questions about the accountability of foreign security contractors in Iraq, who, under an order laid down by the U.S.-led occupation government, are not subject to Iraqi law for actions taken within their contracts. See more about private security contractors »

McCormack emphasized that the decision to put the FBI in the lead was "not pointing in any particular direction based on what we found so far," but that the State Department "had to make a decision and plan for any eventuality."

"If the investigation takes a certain turn, any findings that need to be forwarded to the Department of Justice" would put the FBI in the lead, McCormack said.

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When asked to comment, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the bureau "will work closely with the State Department on this matter."

McCormack confirmed that diplomatic security agents and U.S. military personnel would be providing security for the FBI team when they travel outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, not Blackwater contractors. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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