Friday, September 21, 2007

Blackwater Follies, cont.

Blackwater contractors are back on the streets again, but the battle over their legal status and the status of other security contractors is far from over:

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf said the ministry had drafted legislation giving it wider powers over the contractors and calling for "severe punishment for those who fail to adhere to the ... guidelines."

Iraq has said it would review the status of all security firms after what it called a flagrant assault by Blackwater contractors in which 11 people were killed while the firm was escorting a U.S. embassy convoy through Baghdad on Sunday.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has concluded that the shootings by the Blackwater guards that killed up to 11 Iraqi civilians were unprovoked and unjustified:

In the first comprehensive account of the day’s events, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior said that security guards for Blackwater fired on Iraqis in their cars in midday traffic.

The document concludes that the dozens of foreign security companies here should be replaced by Iraqi companies, and that a law that has given the companies immunity for years be scrapped.

Four days after the shooting, American officials said they were still preparing their own forensic analysis of what happened in Nisour Square. They have repeatedly declined to give any details before their work is finished.

Privately, those officials have warned against drawing conclusions before American investigators have finished interviewing the Blackwater guards. In the Interior Ministry account — made available to The New York Times on Thursday — Iraqi investigators interviewed many witnesses but relied on the testimony of the people they considered to be the four most credible.

The account says that as soon as the guards took positions in four locations in the square, they began shooting south, killing a driver who had failed to heed a traffic policeman’s call to stop.

“The Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation,” the report concludes.

While even I find it difficult to believe that the Blackwater contractors just barreled into the square and started firing, it's clear that incidents like these are not uncommon and that this one may have been the final straw for the Iraqi government:

Habib Sadr was sitting at his desk when the shots rang out. A sniper had just shot three security guards outside his office at the government-run Iraqi Media Network.

With the fatally wounded guards lying by their checkpoint, a security convoy rolled into the neighboring Justice Ministry compound. Sadr believed the sniper was with them. The incident, he said, was a brutal introduction into the world of private security contractors.

An internal investigation by Sadr's department found that Blackwater USA was responsible. But seven months after the Feb. 7 shootings no one has been charged

The death of the media network guards was one of several shootings that have damaged the contractor's reputation among Iraqis and some U.S. diplomats.

In July, a Blackwater convoy traded fire with guards at the Interior Ministry, killing five policemen and wounding eight others, a ministry official told The Times on condition of anonymity.

On Feb. 4, 2007, days before the Interior Ministry guards were killed, Suhad Shakir, 37, employed by the U.S. military, was driving toward the Green Zone at 9 p.m. "There was . . . a convoy of SUVs, I think of U.S. contractors. They were driving in the main road. The girl drove her car behind them but very close, so one car in the convoy shot at her six times and left," said Abu Haidar, a witness who owns a kiosk in the area.

It really shouldn't be a huge surprise to anybody that when you let heavily armed men who have no other consideration beyond protecting their own lives and the lives of those they are escorting operate with complete impunity, you're going to get incidents where reckless contractors blast Iraqi civilians, guards or government personnel or anybody else who gets in their way without much hesitation. But Iraqis do not separate in their minds the contractors from the "official" American presence in Iraq, nor should they. Blackwater's antics hurt whatever minute chances we have of making things better in Iraq, and it's long past time to reign them in and subject them to the law.

1 comment:

Ha said...

This story reminds me of something I would find in a utopian novel. All this seemingly foreshadows an inevitable fascist nation which came to be plausible because of the government's stance on emphasizing the protection of the people. When in reality this Foucoult ideology is nothing if not the complete opposite. What I fear most is that this military organization that does not have to answer to anyone based on legal standard (which is why it is able to carry out all of the government's dirty work) will (and I'm pretty sure it will unless we stop it) lead into something like a Nazi army.