WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 — The Democratic chairman of a House committee complained Tuesday that the State Department was blocking his panel’s efforts to investigate the private security firm Blackwater USA and its operations in Iraq.
The department described the situation as a “misunderstanding.”
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wrote that the State Department had prevented Blackwater from cooperating.
“Blackwater has informed the committee that a State Department official directed Blackwater not to provide documents relevant to the committee’s investigation into the company’s activities in Iraq without the prior written approval of the State Department,” Mr. Waxman’s letter stated. The letter was made available to the news media on Tuesday.
In response, a State Department statement late Tuesday said: “There seems to be some misunderstanding with regard to this matter. All information requested by the committee has been or is in the process of being provided.”
The statement added: “Blackwater has been informed that the State Department has no objection to it providing information to the committee. We have offered to make available for testimony those officials in the best position to respond to the specific issues the committee has raised.”
Blackwater, the private contractor that provides security for American diplomats in Baghdad, has come under intense scrutiny since a Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed.
The American and Iraqi governments have said they are conducting a joint investigation, which infuriated many Iraqis who believe that American contractors are not held accountable for their actions in Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, citing Blackwater’s involvement in other violence, called for the company to be banned from working in Iraq. But the Bush administration has resisted such pressure.
The Blackwater shooting quickly came to be viewed as a test of the sovereignty of the Maliki government and of its ability to stand up to the Bush administration. Mr. Maliki met with President Bush in New York at the United Nations on Tuesday, and American aides said that the two discussed the Blackwater issue briefly. They said that Mr. Maliki discussed the matter more extensively in a meeting with Ms. Rice.