'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


UPDATE: A couple of eyewitness accounts from McClatchy:

Two survivors of Sunday's shooting at a busy Baghdad traffic roundabout said Tuesday that security guards for a State Department convoy opened fire without provocation, contradicting assertions by the guards' U.S.-based employer, Blackwater USA, that they were responding to enemy fire.

Hassan Jaber Salma, 50, a lawyer who suffered eight gunshot wounds in the incident, said he and other motorists were attempting to clear a path for the convoy when the Blackwater guards suddenly strafed the line of traffic with gunfire.

Sami Hawas Karim, 42, a taxi driver who was shot in the hip and side, said he, too, had stopped for the convoy when he saw the guards suddenly open fire on a car bearing a man, a woman and a small child. The guards then opened fire on maintenance workers in the square, the car in front of him, the car behind him and a minibus full of girls.

When he felt the pain of his two wounds, he opened the door of his car and fell to the ground; his 13-year-old son in the car with him wasn't harmed.

"I thought about my family and my five kids," he said. "I remembered my two brothers who were killed, and I said to myself, 'I'm going to be the third.'"

Juan Cole says that the infant shot by Blackwater was subsequently found melted to the mother's chest after the car exploded, but provides no citation for this statement.

In the initial post, I expressed suspicion that anything will ultimately be done to Blackwater, but the McClatchy article, along with several others, does cause one to wonder whether this incident is the beginning of the unwinding of the occupation. Public pressure could force the Iraqi government into a showdown with the US, although I still remain dubious. US diplomatic personnel remain confined to the palatial quarters of the Green Zone until the dispute is resolved.

INITIAL POST: From today's New York Times:

A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving an American diplomatic motorcade said Tuesday that Blackwater security guards were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.

The report, by the Ministry of Interior, was presented to the Iraqi cabinet and, though unverified, seemed to contradict an account offered by Blackwater USA that the guards were responding to gunfire by militants. The report said Blackwater helicopters had also fired. The Ministry of Defense said 20 Iraqis had been killed, a far higher number than had been reported before.

Meanwhile, according to The Independent:

The death toll from the shooting on Sunday rose to 11, with 13 wounded. Blackwater has refused to apologise and claimed that those shot, who included women and children, were "armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately". It has also been claimed that as well as shooting at civilians, the Blackwater guards exchanged fire with Iraqi police and soldiers.

Blackwater, as reported by Jeremy Scahill, is one of the most extreme manifestations of a chilling 21st Century phenomenon: the privatization of military activities and covert operations:

A decade ago this company didn’t exist. It was little more than a 5,000-acre plot in North Carolina near the Great Dismal Swamp and the private fortune of its rightwing Christian bankroller-of-the-President founder, Erik Prince, whose family had a long history of backing Republican Revolution causes and the rise of the religious right. The company was started officially in ’96, began building up in ’97 as a sort of training facility for the federal forces, local and state law enforcement, as well as the military.

After 9/11, it became an all-out mercenary outfit and now has many, many government contracts. One of them alone with the State Department has generated $750 million for Blackwater since June of 2004. The company guards the senior US officials in Iraq, trains forces in Afghanistan, has been deployed in New Orleans. They have 2,300 men actively deployed around the world, another 20,000 contractors at the ready. It’s really the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration’s global war on terror.

Apparently, John Pike said more than he intended in a response to an Agence France Press journalist question about the value of private military contractors like Blackwater:

John Pike of the GlobalSecurity.org defense and intelligence information company believes the fact they do not work under the same constraints as the armed forces can be an asset.

"One of the reasons they make good money is that they will kill assailants without blowing up the whole neighborhood," says Pike. "These people are killers. You can't say that of ordinary soldiers."

Certainly not the best justification for the existence of Blackwater as it appears that the killers failed to utilize the purported precision praised by Pike, and did, in fact, make a good start on blowing up the whole neighborhood. Given the centrality of Blackwater within the religious right and Republican politics, it is hard to believe that the Iraqi government will take any kind of action that impairs the ability of it to operate with impunity.

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