Does Iraq have authority to expel Blackwater?
Blackwater security guards who protect US diplomats in Iraq have been involved in at least seven serious incidents—including some which resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians—Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sept. 19. The revelation came as al-Maliki announced he has revoked the firm's license to operate in Iraq while US and Iraqi officials investigate the Sept. 16 shooting that Iraqi officials now say left at least 11 people dead. Blackwater characterized the incident as an ambush, but survivors and witnesses described it as an unprovoked shooting spree.
Al-Maliki didn't detail the other incidents. But Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told McClatchy Newspapers that one of the incidents was former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ahyam al-Samarrai's escape from a Green Zone prison in December. Samarrai had been awaiting sentencing on charges that he had embezzled $2.5 billion.
Another incident, Askari said, was the shooting death last month of a Baghdad taxi driver when Blackwater guards led a convoy the wrong way down a street. When the taxi driver failed to stop quickly enough as the convoy approached, the Blackwater guards opened fire, Askari said.
"This company must be called to account for these violations, because we don’t allow them to kill Iraqi citizens in cold blood," al-Maliki said. "The people and the Iraqi government are filled with anger and hatred after this crime."
US Embassy officials remained silent on the circumstances of the Sept. 16 shooting. Without security details, US officials remain banned from traveling outside the Green Zone. But under a regulation issued by the US authority that governed Iraq until 2004, US security companies and their employees are not subject to Iraqi law.
"All these things are not acceptable," Askari said. "Maybe this will force them to reassess their work with such companies." (McClatchy, Sept. 19)
In another move sure to antagonize Iraqis, charges against the commander of a Marine unit accused of killing 24 Iraqi men, women and children in Haditha nearly two years ago were dismissed Sept. 18. Capt. Lucas M. McConnell was charged late last year with two counts of failing to properly investigate and report a Nov. 19, 2005, incident that also left one Marine dead. McConnell, commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, has been given immunity in the case and is expected to testify. He was not present in Haditha when a roadside bomb struck a Marine convoy or during the ensuing house-to-house fighting in which the civilians were killed. But he was one of four officers and four enlisted Marines from a Camp Pendleton-based battalion originally charged Dec. 21, 2006, in the Haditha incident. The officers were accused of failing to investigate how the Iraqi civilians died, while the enlisted men were charged with their murder. (AFP, San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept. 19)
Will this represent the turning point, with Iraq's official leadership finally breaking with the US and throwing their lot in with Iran? If so, now the war really begins...
Note that Blackwater recruits mercenaries for Iraq in Latin America's former and current war zones, drawing scrutiny form human rights organizations. Ominously, Blackwater was also dispatched to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.