Moments later a bullet tore through Mr. Ahmed’s head, he slumped, and the car rolled forward. Then Blackwater guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded — a higher toll than previously thought, according to Iraqi investigators.
The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee.
The events in the square began with a short burst of bullets that witnesses described as unprovoked. A traffic policeman standing at the edge of the square, Sarhan Thiab, saw that a young man in a car had been hit. In the line of traffic, that car was the third vehicle from the intersection where the convoy had positioned itself.
“We tried to help him,” Mr. Thiab said. “I saw the left side of his head was destroyed and his mother was crying out: ‘My son, my son. Help me, help me.’”
Another traffic policeman rushed to the driver’s side to try to get her son out of the car, but the car was still rolling forward because her son had lost control, according to a taxi driver close by who gave his name as Abu Mariam (“father of Mariam”).
Then Blackwater guards opened fire with a barrage of bullets, according to the police and numerous witnesses. Mr. Ahmed’s father later counted 40 bullet holes in the car. His mother, Mohassin Kadhim, appears to have been shot to death as she cradled her son in her arms. Moments later the car caught fire after the Blackwater guards fired a type of grenade into the vehicle.
“The shooting started like rain; everyone escaped his car,” said Fareed Walid Hassan, a truck driver who hauls goods in his Hyundai minibus.
He saw a woman dragging her child. “He was around 10 or 11,” he said. “He was dead. She was pulling him by one hand to get him away. She hoped that he was still alive.”
I'm sure there are people who question the details provided by Iraqi civilians. Perhaps some of them were mistaken about the details of the event, especially in a scene as chaotic and violent as this one appears to have been. But whatever the details, it seems apparent that Blackwater guards responded with overwhelmingly violent force upon little or no provocation, and far more force necessary even to carry out their single-minded objective of protecting their charges.