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A Blackwater employee takes part in a firefight in Najaf, Iraq, on April 4, 2004. Blackwater security guards who protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq will be more closely monitored following the Sept. 16 deaths of 11 Iraqi citizens allegedly shot by the company's employees. ((Gervasio Sanchez/Associated Press))

Blackwater's private security guards will be monitored by video cameras and escorted by federal agents while protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered Friday.

The private company has come under scrutiny in Congress and is being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation following a shooting on Sept. 16in which Blackwater's guards are accused of killing at least 11 Iraqi civilians.

Rice ordered tighter restrictions on the private company in hopes of addressing critics' claims the guards operate with little accountability and free of laws.

The restrictions include:

  • Sending dozens of federal agents to Baghdad to accompany Blackwater escorts.
  • Mounting video cameras on armoured vehicles to record their convoys.
  • Recording radio traffic between the embassy and the convoys.

In ordering the changes, Rice moved on preliminary recommendations from an internal review board Rice created after the Sept. 16 shootings.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the measures taken by Riceare not meant to signal that the review or investigation of the Sept. 16deaths is heading in any particular direction.

Blackwater officials contend its employees acted appropriately after coming under fire.The Iraqi government, however,says the guards opened fire on Iraqi civilians in a main square in Baghdad without provocation.

Iraqis and U.S. lawmakers have been seeking clarification on the vague jurisdiction and authority under which the State Department's private security guards operate.

The new rules announced by Riceapply only to Blackwater, the largest of the three private security firms employed by the State Departmentin Iraq.

Representative David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina, said Friday that Rice's move was welcome but overdue.

"It goes without saying that contract personnel who are armed and authorized to use deadly force ought to be closely monitored," he said in a statement. "The secretary still needs to address the essential question of accountability: how will rogue individuals who commit criminal acts be brought to justice?"

On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would place all private government contractors operating in Iraq under U.S. criminal statutes.

The Bush administration expressed concerns about the proposed amendments, but vowed to work with Congress on improvements before the Senate takes up the bill in coming weeks.

With files from the Associated Press