Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she had ordered a “full and complete review” of security practices for U.S. diplomats in Iraq following a deadly weekend incident involving private guards protecting an embassy convoy.

Rice’s announcement came as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad resumed limited diplomatic convoys under the protection of Blackwater USA outside the heavily fortified Green Zone after a two-day suspension because of the weekend incident in that city.

Rice said she had directed the State Department to examine “how we are providing security to our diplomats.”

The review will include all aspects of protection, including the rules of engagement for security guards and under what jurisidiction they should be covered, department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

While on a plane returning from the Middle East to Washington, Rice ordered the review on Thursday in a phone call to the veteran diplomat who will lead it, Patrick Kennedy, a senior management official, according to McCormack. He said the review would be conducted as quickly as possible and might bring in outside experts.

U.S. diplomatic travel had been halted following Sunday’s incident in which guards employed by Blackwater, a private security firm, opened fire in response to an alleged attack on a convoy.

At least 11 people, including Iraqi civilians, were killed in the firefight. Iraqi officials have called the incident a “crime” and initially called for Blackwater to be expelled from the country. Rice and other U.S. officials have urged the Iraqis to wait until investigations are complete before taking any permanent steps.

“We take very seriously what happened,” Rice said, noting she had called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to express regret at the loss of innocent life.

Rice declined to comment on Friday’s resumption of Blackwater-protected convoys but paid tribute to the guards from the firm, one of three that provide security for U.S. diplomats and other civilian government officials in Iraq.

“We have needed and received the protection of Blackwater for a number of years now and they have lost their own people in protecting our people in extremely dangerous circumstances,” she said.

The United States and Iraq have agreed to form a joint commission to look into Sunday’s incident and make recommendations to clarify confusing rules and regulations that govern the conduct of private security contractors in Iraq.

A senior official on al-Maliki’s staff said the Iraqi government realizes that it may not be able to push through a ban on Blackwater USA because the Americans rely so heavily on security firms. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is politically charged.

Iraqi and U.S. witnesses have offered widely divergent accounts of what happened: Iraqis say the Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and the Americans say the security detail was responding to an attack.

Blackwater has not made any comment about the incident since releasing a statement on Monday that said its employees acted properly in responding to an attack.

McCormack said the Blackwater guards who fired weapons in Sunday’s incident, about a third of the 15-20 strong-team protecting the convoy, are “standing down” from their jobs at least temporarily. He did not say whether they would return to duty.

The al-Maliki aide said some of the Blackwater guards believed to have been involved in the shooting were Iraqis and could face prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Blackwater had conducted about 1,800 security details for diplomatic visits outside the Green Zone since January and that there had been very few incidents in which weapons were discharged, he said.

The joint U.S-Iraqi commission is charged with going over separate U.S. and Iraqi investigations of Sunday’s incident, establishing a common set of facts and then suggesting how to proceed. It will be headed on the U.S. side by Patricia Butenis, the No. 2 at the embassy in Baghdad, and on the Iraqi side by a senior official from the Defense Ministry.

It is expected to soon convene for the first time, according to State Department officials who say it will likely propose changes to the existing rules that date from the U.S.-led occupation government and give private contractors immunity from Iraqi laws.

Security contractors are also not subject to U.S. military law under which U.S. troop face prosecution for killing or abusing Iraqis.

The al-Maliki aide said the several options were under study, including a new set of regulations and rules of engagement for security convoys. He gave no details but said security companies would have to “accept Iraqi law,” and Blackwater would likely have to pay compensation to the victims or their survivors.

Sunday’s killings have outraged many Iraqis, who have long resented the presence of armed Western security contractors, considering them an arrogant mercenary force that abuses Iraqis in their own country.

But the United States relies heavily on Blackwater and the two security companies, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, to protect American diplomats and civilian officials since the 160,000-strong American military force is already stretched thin trying to subdue Sunni and Shiite extremists.

Blackwater protects U.S. diplomats in Baghdad and Hilla, while Dyncorp works in the northern Kurdish areas of Iraq and Triple Canopy operates in the predominantly Shia south, according to McCormack.


Associated Press Writer Robert Reid in Baghdad contributed to this story.

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