Private military contractors have been involved in all sorts of questionable incidents, since the very start of the Iraq enterprise. U.S. military officers frequently expressed their frustrations with sharing the battlefield with such private forces operating under their own rules and agendas, and worry about the consequences for their own operations. For example, Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the US 3rd Infantry Division (responsible for Baghdad area) tellingly put it two years back, These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.”
As Shachtman also explains, that Blackwater is involved is no surprise, the Iraqi government has every incentive to give the boot Blackwater in response to the arrogance of the security contractors roaming around Iraq, and Congress and the Bush administration have allowed this situation to fester by doing nothing to remedy the legal vaccuum that private security contractors operate within in Iraq.
Blackwater provies the security for the U.S. diplomatic convoys that race around Iraq, which are suffering as a consequence of the upheavel:
The United States on Tuesday suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials throughout Iraq, except in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. The move follows a weekend incident involving private security guards protecting a diplomatic convoy in which a number of Iraqi civilians were killed.
In a notice sent to Americans in Iraq, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said it had taken the step to review the security of its personnel and possible increased threats to those leaving the Green Zone while accompanied by such security details.
The Bush administration is in a tough spot over the showdown. The administration relies on Blackwater and other contractors to provide security in Iraq, and members of the administration have private connections to the firm. But the administration will also find it difficult to force the Iraqis to back down form their response, as Blackwater and other security contractors are largely reviled by the average Iraqi and are easy targets for a weak government trying to win popular support. As Shachtman explains, conflict was inevitable. And as we see from the story above, the State Department is in a serious bind. Blackwater and other security firms make up for a lack of military personnel to provide security duty, and in the midst of the surge it's unlikely that U.S. commanders will want to order their men to start guarding diplomatic convoys. Something's gotta give. Either the Iraqi government will put on a show and then back down after some mollifying by the U.S. government, or (less likely) they'll stick to their order and put the U.S. government in the position of having to replace tens of thousands of security contractors they've come to rely upon.