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.