Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraqi Interior Ministry revokes authority of Blackwater to operate in Iraq

In the wake of a Sunday firefight near Nisoor square in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead and fourteen injured, Iraq's Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater Security Consulting to operate inside Iraq.

Details are doling out slowly, but witness accounts of the incident reported that one side of the gun battle involved westerners driving sport utility vehicles, of the type used by western contractors; al-Iraqiya, the state-owned television network, reported that a western security company was involved, but did not identify which one.

The firefight erupted after a State Department motorcade came under small-arms fire near Nisoor Square, and one of the vehicles was disabled. No State Department officials were injured, but offered no information on Iraqi casualties.

Today, the Iraqi Interior Ministry took concrete steps to rein in one of the mercenary outfits that infests their country. "We have revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Monday. "The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday's killing will be referred to Iraqi justice."

Blackwater is just one of many *security firms* (when did we stop calling mercenaries by their rightful name?) contracted by the U.S. government during the occupation of Iraq. In fact, the number of employees of these so-called "security" firms outnumbers the coalition forces. Hundreds have lost their lives.

Iraqi officials have complained bitterly about shootings by private military contractors, but Iraqi courts lack the authority to bring contractors to trial or hold them accountable. Additionally, they are not subject to UCMJ, so essentially, a contractor is unaccountable to anyone - a contractor can commit a war crime and the stiffest punishment will be getting tossed out of the country, still a free man. The U.S. military has complained that mercenaries will touch off violence, then call them to clean up the mess.

In February the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform estimated that nearly $4 billion had been paid out to mercenary outfits since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These costs have forced the delay and cancellation of reconstruction projects.

Stay tuned for further developments. I will be revisiting the issue as details emerge.