Iraqis claim settlements were coerced

BAGHDAD — Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by a firm formerly known as Blackwater claimed Sunday they were coerced into reaching settlements and demanded the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.

The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of its assets.

When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed by a U.S. federal judge on Dec. 31, the Iraqis concluded they had been duped and that Blackwater, now called Xe, was not in the legal and financial trouble they had been led to believe.

"We signed the papers to accept a settlement because we had psychological pressure and some of us were threatened," Mahdi Abdul Khodr, 45, told reporters Sunday at Iraq's parliament. He led a delegation comprising representatives of nine of the victims' families who petitioned Iraqi officials to exert pressure on the U.S. government to nullify the settlements.

Xe confirmed it had reached settlements in seven lawsuits filed in the 2007 shooting in Nissour Square and other incidents in which Blackwater guards are alleged to have killed or injured Iraqis. The suits covered 45 injured people and the families of 19 slain Iraqis.