If Blackwater Is Kicked Out, Who’s Next?
If al Qaeda in Iraq is the central problem we face, then this WaPo story suggesting we’ve beaten AQI means we can declare victory and start withdrawing. Right?
Of course, if the Administration’s focus on AQI was just self-serving misdirection, or if Bush/Cheney have other reasons for building the largest embassy in the world and several permanent bases in Iraq, then it matters that Blackwater may soon be expelled from Iraq:
The Iraqi investigators issued five recommendations to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has since sent them to the U.S. Embassy as demands for action. Point No. 2 in the report says:
“The Iraqi government should demand that the United States stops using the services of Blackwater in Iraq within six months and replace it with a new, more disciplined organization that would be answerable to Iraqi laws.”
Sami al-Askari, a top aide to al-Maliki, said that point in the Iraqi list of demands was nonnegotiable.
“I believe the government has been clear. There have been attacks on the lives of Iraqi citizens on the part of that company (Blackwater). It must be expelled. The government has given six months for its expulsion and it’s left to the U.S. Embassy to determine with Blackwater when to terminate the contract. The American administration must find another company,” he told AP.
Last night, CBS’ Lara Logan interviewed Blackwater CEO Erik Prince on 60 Minutes. Prince was unapologetic, sounding like Ollie North in defending his patriotic war against America’s enemies. Prince claimed that Blackwater armored vehicles had been fired on, a claim Logan said CBS had no way to confirm. The AP story, however, suggests a State Department coverup:
One [witness who reported Blackwater helicopters opening fire] was 20-year-old Ahmed Abdul-Timan, who works as a guard at the tunnel that runs under the square. He told AP that the initial U.S. investigative team tried to intimidate him into changing his story about the helicopters firing. He said the interrogation lasted three hours.
“Four or five days after the incident,” Abdul-Timan said, “there was a second investigation but the questioning was done by a U.S. Army major. It was much easier. They videotaped what I said, took my phone number and address. The major tried to comfort us, saying he and his men love the Iraqi people and want to help them.”
Abdul-Timan’s account squares with others that indicated the first investigation by State Department personnel appeared to be an attempt to vindicate the Blackwater guards. The U.S. military conducted the second investigation and was more sympathetic.
The Blackwater incident is just part of a larger pattern of US devaluing the lives and rights of Iraqis. US military forces have recently killed dozens of Iraq civilians in situations that had equally unsatisfactory explanations.
(1) On October 6, the senior officer assigned to recommend charges against the Marines involved in killing 24 civilians at Haditha recommended reduced or no charges, arguing not only that there was insufficient evidence to bring murder charges — investigators had failed to preserve evidence and witnesses — but that pressing charges would undermine Marine morale and support for their mission.
(2) A week ago, the US called in air strikes against suspected “criminal” armed gunmen, kiling 25, but the local Iraqis claim the victims were either innocent civilians or locals involved in neighborhood protection organized to repel al Qaeda attacks.
(3) Also last week, a similiar incident resulted in US airstrikes killing 15 civilians, including 6 women and 9 children. US officials blamed it on the enemy hiding among civilians. (A Shia Minister agreed; note the victims were all Sunni). But this explanation is telling:
“The enemy has a vote here,” Admiral Smith said, “and when he chooses to surround himself with civilians and then fire upon U.S. forces, our forces have no choice but to return a commensurate amount of fire. Which is what they did last evening.”
(4) The US Senate passed a non-binding resolution recommending Iraq devolve more power to regional governments and loosen centralized control. Whatever the merits of “soft-partition,” Iraqis reacted with almost universal condemnation of the American disregard of Iraqi sovereignty.
On CNN Sunday, Lindsey Graham repeated his threat that if the al Maliki government does not take advantage of the surge-created “security environment” to reach political reconciliation within 90 days, the US should stomp its feet or something. As Zbigniew Brzezinski told Blitzer, “that’s colonialism.” Like too many Americans, Graham assumes only his impatience matters, but as Juan Cole reports, Iraqis see it differently.
Update: File under supreme irony: LA Times asks whether security contractors like Blackwater fit the definition of “unlawful enemy combatants.” (h/t wigwam) Newsweek has more on Blackwater’s reputation.
AP Photo of Blackwater USA helicopter, Marko Drobnjakovik file.