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Originally published Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Iraq Notebook

State Dept. renews Blackwater contract

The State Department has just renewed its contract with Blackwater Worldwide to provide security for American diplomats in Iraq for at least...

WASHINGTON — The State Department has just renewed its contract with Blackwater Worldwide to provide security for American diplomats in Iraq for at least another year.

Guards for the security company were involved in a shooting in September that left at least 17 Iraqis dead at a Baghdad intersection. Outrage over the killings prompted the Iraqi government to demand Blackwater's ouster from the country, a criminal investigation by the FBI, a series of internal investigations by the State Department and the Pentagon, and high-profile congressional hearings.

The chief reason for the company's survival? State Department officials said Friday they did not believe they had any alternative to Blackwater, which supplies about 800 guards to the department to guard diplomats in Baghdad.

No charges have yet been brought in the United States against any Blackwater guards in the September shooting, and the FBI agents in Baghdad charged with investigating whether Blackwater guards committed any crimes under United States law are sometimes protected as they travel through Baghdad by Blackwater guards.

Still, serious risks remain for Blackwater and at least some of its current and former personnel. A federal grand jury continues to consider evidence in the Baghdad shooting.

That wasn't al-Masri, U.S. military says

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military on Friday denied Iraqi government claims that the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was captured and said a man with a similar name had been arrested in the northern city of Mosul.

Iraqi authorities had announced Thursday that police commandos captured Abu Ayyub al-Masri in Mosul.

"Neither coalition forces nor Iraqi security forces detained or killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri [also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir]. This guy had a similar name," said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry, a U.S. military spokeswoman in northern Iraq. She said no additional details were being immediately provided.

There had been false alarms in the past about al-Masri. At least twice — in 2006 and May 2007 — reports circulated that he was dead, but they were later proved wrong.

Iraqi forces allowed into Sadr City

BAGHDAD — Followers of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed late Friday to allow Iraqi security forces to enter all of Baghdad's Sadr City and to arrest anyone found with heavy weapons in a surprising capitulation that seemed likely to be hailed as a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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In return, Sadr's Mahdi Army supporters won the Iraqi government's agreement not to arrest Mahdi Army members without warrants, unless they were in possession of "medium and heavy weaponry."

On Friday, 15 people were killed and 112 were injured in fighting, officials at the neighborhoods two major hospitals said.

Rocket hits BBC office in the Green Zone

BAGHDAD — Shiite militants launched rockets toward the fortified Green Zone on Friday, taking advantage of a sandstorm that gave cover from attacks by U.S. aircraft. Some rockets fell short, including one that damaged the British Broadcasting Corp. bureau.

U.S. authorities did not confirm any strikes inside the Green Zone.

One rocket hit the roof of the BBC bureau, leaving a 3-by-5-foot hole.

"It caused structural damage but no one was injured," said Patrick Howse, the BBC bureau chief in Baghdad.

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