Blackwater security guards who protect top U.S. diplomats in Iraq have been involved in at least seven serious incidents, some of which resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Wednesday.
Maliki didn't detail the incidents, which he said add to the case against the North Carolina-based security firm. Blackwater's license to operate here has been revoked while U.S. and Iraqi officials investigate a shooting Sunday that Iraqi officials now say left at least 11 people dead.
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 jail in December. Samarrai had been awaiting sentencing on charges that he had embezzled $2.5 billion that was intended to rebuild Iraq's decrepit electricity grid.
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.
The above is from Leila Fadel's "Maliki blasts Blackwater firm for other incidents" (McClatchy Newspapers) you can read it in full or, if you're in the mood for crap, Sabrina Tavernise is serving it up on the pages of the New York Times this morning in a piece of embarrassment entitled "Maliki Alleges 7 Cases When Blackwater Killed Iraqis". Tavernise went to the same al-Maliki press conference but either didn't think to ask around about any examples of the seven previous incidents al-Maliki cited or didn't bother to include it. Apparently, she was far too busy tracking down the US State Department and the White House response -- despite the fact that other reporters at the paper -- not stationed in Iraq -- have that beat. But, let's be honest, everyone at the Times doing a news article has the State Department beat. It's one bad moment after another for Tavernise in an uninformed and ill informed article. Any thoughts that she might be due a small break since she's actually writing the paper's sole Iraq article (also going over all of yesterday's news coming out of Iraq) vanish when nonsense like this appears:
One American soldier was killed in southern Baghdad on Tuesday, the American military said.
On Thursday, Tavernise wants to tell you that one US service member died on Tuesday? From yesterday's snapshot:
CBS and AP report: "The military said five U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq Tuesday. Three died following an explosion near their patrol northeast of Baghdad. Another soldier was killed in a vehicle accident in the northern province of Ninevah. On Wednesday, the military said another soldier had been killed in an attack in southern Baghdad. The Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldier was killed by small arms fire while conducting combat operations Tuesday in a southern section of the Iraqi capital, according to a brief military statement. The soldiers' names were not released pending notification of relatives. The deaths raised to at least 3,787 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count." Maybe. (Not a slap down. We noted the string along announcements numbered five deaths this morning.) Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldier was killed during a small arms fire attack while conducting combat operations in a southern section of the Iraqi capital Sept. 18." That is in the count of five. Later today, the US military announced: "A Task Force Lightning Soldier died of a non-battle related cause, Wednesday, in Sala ad Din Province." And they announced: "A Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldier was killed during combat operations in an area weat of the Iraqi captial Sep 19." Reuters count is 3786 since the start of the illegal war. ICCC's total is 3791 US service members killed in the illegal war thus far. The reason for the confusion? M-NF is supposed to announce deaths with the Defense Dept later announcing the names of the dead (after next of kin is notified). But M-NF has been slacking on the job -- it's not a tough job, they just issue press releases all day long. They've 'suceeded' in hiding the dead. And with the 3800 mark looming, let's not kid and pretend this is just an accident. M-NF has a pattern of doing this when every realities are in conflict with the spin coming out of the White House. ICCC has period details and their count includes deaths never announced by M-NF but announced by the Defense Dept when the DoD provides the names of the dead. ICCC's period details indicate that six deaths took place on Tuesday -- six deaths that have been announced.
Thank you for the misinformation, Tavernise. As actual reporting, the article fails. As a roundup of events from Iraq, the article fails. As whispers from the State Department, it reads like the bulk of nonsense the Times publishes day after day.
Martha notes Steve Fainaru's "Where Military Rules Don't Apply" (Washington Post):
In recent months, the State Department's oversight of Blackwater became a central issue as Iraqi authorities repeatedly clashed with the company over its aggressive street tactics. Many U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry representatives said they came to see Blackwater as untouchable, protected by State Department officials who defended the company at every turn. Blackwater employees protect the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats in Iraq.
Blackwater "has a client who will support them no matter what they do," said H.C. Lawrence Smith, deputy director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, an advocacy organization in Baghdad that is funded by security firms, including Blackwater.
The State Department allowed Blackwater's heavily armed teams to operate without an Interior Ministry license, even after the requirement became standard language in Defense Department security contracts. The company was not subject to the military's restrictions on the use of offensive weapons, its procedures for reporting shooting incidents or a central tracking system that allows commanders to monitor the movements of security companies on the battlefield.
"The Iraqis despised them, because they were untouchable," said Matthew Degn, who recently returned from Baghdad after serving as senior American adviser to the Interior Ministry. "They were above the law." Degn said Blackwater's armed Little Bird helicopters often buzzed the Interior Ministry's roof, "almost like they were saying, 'Look, we can fly anywhere we
A Blackwater spokeswoman referred questions about how the company is regulated to the State Department.
And should the State Department prove unavailable, pick up the phone and call Tavernise who apparently moonlights for extra cash.
Turning to Ned Parker's "Maliki insists U.S. find new guard firm" (Los Angeles Times) you may notice it's just the Times of New York that plays dumb about the need to speak to anyone outside the official State Department channels:
Two American diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity have told The Times that the State Department had failed to take Blackwater to task in past cases in which Iraqi civilians were shot. The diplomats complained that the State Department's security office in Baghdad had often failed to scrutinize Blackwater's actions.
In the eyes of many Iraqis, Blackwater has come to epitomize reckless behavior on the part of foreign private security contractors. More than 20,000 private guards are believed to be in Iraq, providing protection for diplomats, other civilian government employees and a wide array of contractors. Four Blackwater employees were killed by a mob in the western Iraqi city of Fallouja in 2004, leading to a U.S. military offensive there.
Private security contractors are also beginning to draw criticism from Congress. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has announced plans to hold hearings on Blackwater and the Bush administration's use of private security contractors in war zones.
On the Iraq end, this isn't being driven by al-Maliki who is instead riding the wave. It's allowed him to be perceived as less of a puppet. Should the white wash take place and the whole matter be swept aside to allow Blackwater to remain, Allawyi and others trying to replace him will have even more support. For the US government, it's a quandry: Do they use this moment to provide al-Maliki with a chance to alter his image or do they continue to let greed rule?
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