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22 Apr, 2009 08:44

Blackwater still operating in Iraq under new name

Having changed its name to Xe, Blackwater security firm continues protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq – despite lacking a license to operate.

The company has plans to stay there long into the summer – far longer than previously thought – leading ground operations in parts of Iraq.

U.S. State Department officials acknowledge the company is still there, while Xe has not made any comments about a timetable for leaving.

"We follow the direction of our U.S. government client," Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said.

Blackwater armed guards were involved in a lethal gun battle in Baghdad's busy Nisoor Square in September 2007, which left 17 civilians dead, and another 20 injured.

Some Iraqis wounded in the notorious shooting said they were dismayed to hear the company will be staying in Iraq for another several months.

"The Blackwater personnel are mercenaries. The Iraqi government knows that very well," AP quotes Hussein Jabir, a Baghdad lawyer hit by gunfire in Nisoor Square.

After the Nisoor Square incident, Iraqi officials forbade Blackwater operations in the country. Several months later, in February 2008, Blackwater changed its name to Xe – pronounced as Zee. Despite the ban, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract in April 2008.

In January this year, Iraqi authorities denied Xe an operating license.