Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mercenaries Above the Law

From the testimony of Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, before the Senate:

"What happened Sunday is part of a deadly pattern, not just of Blackwater USA's conduct, but of the army of mercenaries that have descended on Iraq over the past four years. They have acted like cowboys, running Iraqis off the road, firing indiscriminately at vehicles and, in some cases, private forces have appeared on tape seemingly using Iraqis for target practice. They have shown little regard for Iraqi lives and have fueled the violence in that country, not just against the people of Iraq but also against the official soldiers of the United States military in the form of blowback and revenge attacks stemming from contractor misconduct. These private forces have operated in a climate where impunity and immunity have gone hand in hand."

And of course, the Iraqi government is "sovereign" only when it suits the U.S.: Blackwater Working Again in Iraq. (i.e., go to hell, puppet. Who are you to complain?)

From the Times:

"American Embassy officials had said Monday that the Blackwater guards had been responding to a car bomb, but Mr. Dabbagh said the bomb was so far away that it could not possibly have been a reason for the convoy to begin shooting.

Instead, he said, the convoy had initiated the shooting when a car did not heed a police officer and moved into an intersection.

“The traffic policeman was trying to open the road for them,” he said. “It was a crowded square. But one small car did not stop. It was moving very slowly. They shot against the couple and their child. They started shooting randomly.”

In video shot shortly after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire, according to an official who saw it.

In interviews on Tuesday, six Iraqis who had been in the area at the time of the shooting, including a man who was wounded and an Iraqi Army soldier who helped rescue people, offered roughly similar versions.

The Iraqi soldier, who said he was standing at a checkpoint on the edge of the square, said he thought the convoy believed the small car was a suicide bomber and opened fire. According to the wounded man, recuperating in Yarmouk Hospital, the car with the family was driving on the wrong side of the road.

The convoy began throwing nonlethal sound bombs, several witnesses said, to keep people in the area away. That drew fire from Iraqi Army soldiers manning watchtowers that are part of an Iraqi Army base on the square. Iraqi police officers, witnesses said, also appeared to be shooting.

The Iraqi soldier, who did not give his name but said he was from a company of Iraqi commandos, said he saw another soldier trying to motion to the convoy to move on, but he was shot as well."

Blackwater Guards Fired Unprovoked (AP).

Private Security in Iraq: Whose Rules?:

Iraqis have long bristled at the presence of the private guards, who they claim are little more than mercenaries with little respect for Iraqi lives and less discipline than uniformed US troops.

An Iraqi police officer who works in Karada, a mixed sectarian neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, says the foreign private security firms act out of their own interests as they jet through the city and seem to pay little heed to the dangers they pose to average citizens on the street.

The officer says employees of the firms use overly aggressive tactics, crashing into cars and disobeying traffic laws and often rolling over gardens and hitting trees – and never stopping.

He says he once tried to help an Iraqi driver who was gravely wounded by private security guards even though he had tried to get out of their way. "They are bad," he says.

Many Americans are probably unaware that private security contractors, like Blackwater (there are dozens more, forming a total of up to 140,000 contractors, most of them American), are immune to any prosecution under both American and Iraqi law, civil or military, which is why you get Wild West cowboy behaviour like this:

More from Iraqi bloggers: Baghdad Treasure, Baghdad Connect, Zappy.