Baghdad: Iraq said it regretted the decision of a US judge to dismiss criminal charges against five Blackwater security guards accused of fatally shooting 14 people in Baghdad in September 2007.
"The Iraqi government regrets the decision of a federal judge in the United States to drop the charges against the Blackwater security guards," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
He added that an Iraqi investigation had shown that the five guards were unquestionably responsible for the deaths of the civilians.
According to Iraq, 17 civilians were killed in the shooting, but the guards were charged with 14 deaths.
"Inquiries carried out by the Iraqi government clearly confirm that the Blackwater guards committed a crime and used weapons when there was no threat necessitating the use of force," Dabbagh said.
The Iraqi government "will act forcefully and decisively to prosecute the Blackwater criminals," he added. US federal judge Ricardo Urbina on Thursday dismissed the charges against the five, saying prosecutors violated their rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a State Department probe to build their case.
The case was among the most sensational that sought to hold Blackwater employees accountable for what was seen as a culture of lawlessness and a lack of accountability as it carried out its duties in Iraq.
The guards, who had been part of a convoy of armoured vehicles, had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others during an unprovoked attack at a busy Baghdad roundabout using guns and grenades.
The men had faced firearms charges, and up to 10 years in jail on each of 14 manslaughter counts.
US prosecutors had alleged that the guards "specifically intended to kill or seriously injure Iraqi civilians," and, according to court documents, alleged that one of the guards told another that he wanted to kill Iraqis as "payback for 9/11," bragging about the number of Iraqis he had shot.
The five defendants were security guards employed by Blackwater Worldwide, which has since been renamed as Xe Corporation.
Attorneys for the guards have said they did not fire their weapons with criminal intent but thought they were under attack.