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U.S. linked to

BAGHDAD (CBS/AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi officials Wednesday were investigating yet another shooting of Iraqi civilians by a heavily armed security firm linked to U.S. government-financed work in Iraq.

The bodies of Marou Awanis and Geneva Jalal, the women killed in the Tuesday shooting, were taken, meanwhile, to Baghdad's Armenian Orthodox Virgin Mary Church for funeral services.

Iraqi authorities blamed the women's deaths on guards working for Unity Resources Group, a security company owned by Australian partners but with headquarters in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Unity provides security services to RTI International, a group based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, that promotes governance projects in Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Both Unity and RTI acknowledged a security contract between them and both entities said RTI staffers were not present when the shooting occurred in Baghdad's Karradah district.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said RTI was under contract by USAID but was responsible for its own security.

"USAID does not direct the security arrangements of contractors," Mirembe Nantongo said.

According to the USAID Web site, RTI has about $450 million in U.S. government contracts to work on local governance projects in Iraq. USAID is a semi-autonomous arm of the U.S. State Department that manages American aide programs.

Michael Priddin, chief operating officer of Unity, told The Associated Press on Wednesday the firm was working with Iraqi authorities "to find out the results of the shooting incident. ...we are trying to work out a true picture of what happened."

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Priddin said, "We deeply regret this incident."

Iraqi government officials, police and witnesses said guards working for Unity fired on a white Oldsmobile as it approached their convoy Tuesday afternoon, killing the two women before speeding away from the latest bloodshed blamed on the deadly mix of heavily armed protection details on Baghdad's crowded streets.

The deaths of the women - including one who used the white sedan as an unofficial taxi to raise money for her family - came a day after the Iraqi government handed U.S. officials a report demanding hefty payments and the ouster from Iraq of embattled Blackwater USA for a chaotic shooting last month that left at least 17 civilians dead.

CBS News has learned that Iraqi witness accounts from the Blackwater incident are remarkably consistent.

The Tuesday killings were certain to sharpen Iraqi government demands to curb the expanding array of security firms in Iraq watching over diplomats, aid groups and others.

Accounts of the incident - from company statements, witnesses and others - suggested the Unity guards opened fire as the car failed to heed warnings to stop and drifted closer to the convoy near a Unity facility in Karrahah.

In other developments:

  • A suicide bomber slammed his minibus Wednesday into blast walls at the offices of a key Kurdish political party in the country's north, killing a local party official and a guard, and wounding five other guards, the party said. The attack targeted a regional office of the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, some 13 miles outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, according to the party's spokesman, Ahmed Tawfiq. Tawfiq said the blast walls prevented the attacker from hitting the building and inflicting more casualties.

  • Congressional Democrats have put on the back burner legislation ordering troops home from Iraq and turned their attention to war-related proposals that Republicans are finding hard to reject. The legislative agenda marks a dramatic shift for party leaders who vowed repeated votes to end combat and predicted Republicans would eventually join them. But with Democrats still lacking enough votes to bring troops home, the party runs the risk of concluding its first year in control of Congress with little to show for its tough anti-war rhetoric.

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