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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Waxman: Blackwater stole 2 Iraqi planes

WASHINGTON A congressional probe found that a major U.S. security contractor stole at least two Iraqi Air Force planes.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman has demanded that Blackwater provide his panel with documents on the shipment of the Iraqi aircraft abroad. Waxman also wanted to know the current location of the air platforms.

The investigation determined that Blackwater USA sought to fly at least two Iraqi military aircraft out of the country in 2005. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stated that Blackwater, the leading security contractor of the U.S. State Department in Iraq, refused to return the unidentified airplanes to the Iraqi Air Force.

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In an Oct. 19 letter to Blackwater chairman Erik Prince, Waxman did not identify the allegedly stolen Iraqi aircraft. The House chairman said he learned of the 2005 attempt from an unidentified military official, Middle East Newsline reported.

"According to a military official who has contacted the committee, in 2005 Blackwater attempted to transport at least two Iraqi military aircraft out of Iraq," Waxman wrote. "The official stated that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense attempted to reclaim the aircraft, but that Blackwater would not comply."

The Iraqi Air Force contains 51 aircraft, comprised of U.S.-, Australian- and Russian-origin platforms. The air fleet contains C-130 air transports, SAMA-2000 light reconnaissance aircraft, Huey-2 helicopters and Mi-17 helicopters.

"Please provide the committee with the following information:" the letter continued, "all documents related to efforts by Blackwater to remove Iraqi aircraft from Iraq and the current whereabouts of such aircraft."

Waxman gave Prince until Nov. 2 to produce the documents. The California Democrat also demanded Blackwater contracts with the federal government, Prince's personal earnings as well as compensation to Iraqis killed by Blackwater security guards.

Blackwater, also under threat of expulsion by Iraq, said it would cooperate with the House committee. Blackwater has been awarded some $1 billion in State Department security contracts in Iraq.

"In this tumultuous political climate, Blackwater Worldwide has taken center stage, our services and ethics aggressively challenged with misinformation and fabrications," Blackwater said in an appeal to supporters on Wednesday. "While we can't ask that each supporter do everything, Blackwater asks that everyone does something."

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