Originally Published: 9/19/2007
By The Issue Wonk
This week the Interior Ministry of Iraq announced that it was revoking the license of Blackwater U.S.A., a private American company that provides security to government and private officials in Iraq, such as Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Employees of the firm were involved in a Baghdad shoot-out that killed at least 9 civilians, including a mother and her child. The shooting began after a car bomb exploded near a State Department motorcade in central Baghdad.1 Blackwater and U.S. Officials say the security contractors exchanged fire with armed attackers, but “three people who claimed to have witnessed the shooting said that only the Blackwater guards were firing.”2 Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul-Karim Khalaf announced, “We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities.”1 A senior Iraqi official, however, said that “as far as the license being permanently revoked, ‘it’s not a done deal yet.’”3 Ousting Blackwater from Iraq would be good press for Iraqi politicians. “[N]ewspapers in Iraq on Tuesday trumpeted the government’s decision.”4 Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, is expected to “gain political capital from the move against unpopular foreign security contractors.”
Currently there are about 1,000 Blackwater employees operating in Iraq.5 Many “diplomats, engineers, reconstruction officials and others” receive their security protection from Blackwater. Ambassador Crocker, in his Senate testimony last week, said, “There is simply no way at all that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts.”3 The total number of private contractors in Iraq is estimated to be between 126,0006 and 180,000,7 which includes 20,000 to 50,000 private security guards.5
Private contractors in Iraq have been angering Iraqis who consider them “a mercenary force that runs roughshod over people in their own country.”1 In the Abu Ghraib debacle, “the U.S. Army found that contractors were involved in 36% of proven abuse incidents”8 but “not a single private contractor named in the Army’s investigation report has been charged, prosecuted or punished.” Also, in 2004 four Blackwater employees were brutally killed in Fallujah, their mutilated bodies were shown hanging from a bridge.9 The military had to clean up the mess.10 In December 2006 a drunken Blackwater employee allegedly killed a guard for the Iraqi Vice President. He was smuggled out of the country and fired by the company.11 And last May, Blackwater guards were involved in several shooting incidents on consecutive days in Baghdad.4 Interior Ministry officials says they have received reports of at least a half-dozen incidents in which Blackwater guards allegedly shot civilians, far more than any other company.
Is there anything that the Iraqi government can truly do about it? Probably not. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by L. Paul Bremer, issued an order the day before the CPA ceased to exist. This order “granted American private security contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.”12 The Iraqis contested this order but nothing was changed. It is still in effect. And, U.S. laws probably can’t govern the actions of private security contractors operating in a foreign country. Military personnel are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but this doesn’t apply, once again, to private security contractors. Finally, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 covers civilians working for the Department of Defense, but Blackwater and all private security forces are employed by the Department of State.6
1 Salaheddin, Sinan. Iraq Investigates Foreign Security Firms. Associated Press, September 17, 2007.
2 Fadel, Leila, Neff, Joseph, & Kadhim, Hussein. Iraq Threatens Action Against U.S. Security Firm. McClatchy, September 17, 2007.
3 Zagorin, Adam & Bennett, Brian. Will Iraq Kick Out Blackwater? Time, September 17, 2007.
4 CBS/AP. Iraq Orders Blackwater USA Contractors Out. CBS News, September 18, 2007.
5 Partlow, Joshua & Pincus, Walter. Iraq Bans Security Contractor. Washington Post, September 18, 2007.
6 Tavernise, Sabrina. U.S. Contractor Banned by Iraq Over Shootings. The New York Times, September 18, 2007.
7 Koppelman, Alex & Benjamin, Mark. What Happens to Private Contractors Who Kill Iraqis? Maybe Noting. Salon, September 18, 2007.
8 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility. Report ordered by LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez, Commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Seven.
9 CNN.com. U.S. Expects More Attacks in Iraq. Residents Hang Slain Americans’ Bodies From Bridge. May 6, 2004.
10 Dorrell, Oren & Zoroya, Gregg. Battle for Fallujah Forged Many Heroes. USA Today, November 9, 2006.
11 Pelton, Robert Y. Blackwater Contractor Kills Vice President’s Guard. Prisonplanet.com, February 9, 2007.
12 Coalition Provisions Authority Order Number 17 (Revised). Status of the Coalition Provisional Authority, MNF-Iraq, Certain Missions and Personnel in Iraq.
© The Issue Wonk, 2007