Blackwater License Pulled in Iraq

Controversial Blackwater Security has had its license to operate in Iraq yanked.

The Iraqi government said Monday that it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad. The Interior Ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday shooting. It was latest accusation against the U.S.-contracted firms that operate with little or no supervision and are widely disliked by Iraqis who resent their speeding motorcades and forceful behavior.

Not surprising. Blackwater has been at the center of several controversies and has been at the epicenter of a longstanding debate about the role of private security firms (a/k/a mercenaries) operating in war zones. It’s one thing to have contractors perform service support functions like food service and transportation; having them running around in trigger puller roles in a nebulous legal position is simply untenable.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman wonders whether Blackwater will actually leave.

[I]t’s unclear how the Interior Ministry would expel Blackwater. Unlike other private U.S. security firms in Iraq, as of May, Blackwater hadn’t registered with the Iraqi government to operate in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority — the now-defunct occupational government — issued a decree in 2004 (pdf) immunizing security contractors from Iraqi prosecution and placing their operations under the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities.

Blackwater, one of many security firms safeguarding U.S. personnel in Iraq, has an estimated 1,000 employees operating in the country, and Iraq-related contracts with the State Department worth over $100 million. Official estimates place between 20,000 and 30,000 private security contractors in Iraq — the equivalent of about six U.S. Army brigades. Their operations are controversial in and outside Iraq: in May, the company was involved in two firefights in as many days in eastern Baghdad, right on the doorstep of an incensed Interior Ministry. One of the incidents began after an Iraqi driver drove too closely to a Blackwater convoy, resulting in the contractors killing the driver after attempting, unsuccessfully, to wave him away.

In Congressional testimony last week, Ambassador Ryan Crocker praised private security firms working in Iraq. He is unlikely to allow the Interior Ministry to expel Blackwater without a fight: not only is Blackwater a contractor with the U.S. government, its personnel and those of its rival rival firms keep Crocker and many of his colleagues alive. Expect the ministry’s decision to spark a serious diplomatic row between the U.S. and the Iraqi government, which will be under public pressure to demonstrate that it’s holding the firm accountable.

An interesting point. As Steve Benen notes, it also raises larger questions about the true nature of Iraq’s sovereignty.

It’s not unusual for foreign forces to be partially shielded from host country law. The United States operates under Status of Forces Agreements in most (if not all) the countries where it has bases and, presumably, has some reciprocal arrangements for foreign forces stationed here. Private firms, however, are in a bizarre no man’s land in this regard, since they’re not subject to military law, either.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Whatever. Blackwater is an extension of the US security apparatus and therefore, they should be thought of as Americans contributing to our mission in bringing peace to Iraq.

    Given the fact that they were protecting US government employees from terrorists, having the Iraqi “government” punish them is unacceptable. Blackwater should be reinstalled immediately and Patreus should take Maliki hostage if our Iraqi puppets fail to comply.

  2. legion says:

    Hey, does this mean Bush can take credit for bringing home an extra 10,000 (or however many) troops by Xmas?

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  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Any idea how many Blackhawk contractors and subcontractors there are, James? I’m curious—I have no idea.

    There are any number of important questions involving the use of contractors by the military. I think it makes all the sense in the world for food service personnel to be non-military. Soldiers are too expensive and valuable to be used in such roles. We’ve known for 300 years that specialization was the key to efficiency.

    On the other hand I also think it’s disingenuous to bundle food service personnel, truck drivers, and bodyguards under the single label of “contractors”.

    My biggest concern about the “private security companies” is that they can presumably be hired by individuals as well as by governments. I think that should be abolished regardless of whether a U. S. company or a Saudi sheikh is footing the bill.

  5. John Burgess says:

    Given that State employees are not trained in the use of arms for self-defense, I really don’t see an alternative to the use of contractors in this role.

    Just saying that they should be trained isn’t enough. State selects for particular attributes; competence in the use of small arms isn’t one of those attributes. Perhaps some future State Dept. might do so, but as of now, most State employees are not competent to protect themselves in situations like Iraq.

    Detailing US military to provide personal protection doesn’t sound like a winner, either. Even Marine Security Guards are not assigned to US embassies for staff protection. They’re there only to guard classified materials and equipment.

  6. LaurenceB says:

    I’m willing to bet my firstborn child (used, but still in good condition) that Blackwater will not be leaving Iraq any time soon.

    Simply put, Maliki is not the one in charge.

  7. JKB says:

    I doubt this is an attempt to toss Blackwater out of the country. To big of a scramble to move the contracts to other “firms.” I would surmise that the goal is alter the “diplomatic immunity” the security contractors enjoy in not being prosecuted under Iraqi law. Thus, contractors working for the State Department are a prime opportunity as opposed to security contractors working for DOD or the CIA. The US Ambassador to Iraq directly controls the contract with the State Department and will either have to impugn Iraqi sovereignty or start working to bring non-US government personnel working for the US under Iraqi law. The Iraqi government is moving to regain sovereign control over individuals in their territory to demonstrate to their populace that they can govern independent of US forces.

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  10. Blackwater is an extension of the US security apparatus and therefore, they should be thought of as Americans contributing to our mission in bringing peace to Iraq.

    I agree with that statement. I haven’t been following Blackwater but, like anyone involved with security, from private firm to MP, they should be axed if they perform their job negligently.

    Blackwater will lose millions of dollars on this. Maybe next time, they won’t be so trigger happy if, indeed, that’s what was happening.

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  12. Triumph says:

    I haven’t been following Blackwater but, like anyone involved with security, from private firm to MP, they should be axed if they perform their job negligently.

    Blackwater will lose millions of dollars on this. Maybe next time, they won’t be so trigger happy if, indeed, that’s what was happening.

    Remember who is making the charge that the Blackwater patriots are being negligent–Maliki’s government. Maliki has ties to the al-Quadea-style terrorists that have been attacking US troops daily.

    Thus, anything coming out of the mouths of the Iraqi government should be ignored.

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  15. Anderson says:

    Blackwater does this stuff All … The … Time. Maliki has to act b/c the Iraqis are fed up, and it gives him a chance to look a little less like an American stooge.

    Of course, the question of Iraq’s expelling Blackwater can be succinctly answered thus: “With what army?”

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  26. Barry says:

    “Blackwater is an extension of the US security apparatus and therefore, they should be thought of as Americans contributing to our mission in bringing peace to Iraq.”

    Does anybody have an updated copy of the Constitution? Because mine doesn’t mention ‘US security apparatus’ at all.

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