Friday, September 21, 2007

NYT reporting for the State Dept

Iraq's Ministry of Interior has concluded that employees of a private American security firm fired an unprovoked barrage in the shooting last Sunday in which at least eight Iraqis were killed and is proposing a radical reshaping of the way American diplomats and contractors here are protected.
In the first comprehensive account of the day's events, the ministry said that security guards for Blackwater USA, a company that guards all senior American diplomats here, fired on Iraqis in their cars in midday traffic.
The document concludes that the dozens of foreign security companies here should be replaced by Iraqi companies, and that a law that has given the companies immunity for years be scrapped.

Reporting for the State Dept, that's from Sabrina Tavernise and James Glanz' "Guards' Shots Not Provoked, Iraq Concludes" in this morning's New York Times. Doubt it? Ask yourself when you've ever seen the following sentence but with "White House" or "US military" in place of "Iraqi": "The Iraqi version of events may be self-serving in some points."?

If we can leave the "self-serving" report by the Times, Kim Sengupta (Independent of London) doesn't wait around for reports to be handed over. For some strange reason Sengupta believes reporters go out and investigate. From "The real story of Baghdad's Bloody Sunday:"

The reports we got from members of the public, Iraqi security personnel and government officials, as well as our own research, leads to a markedly different scenario than the American version. There was a bomb blast. But it was too far away to pose any danger to the Blackwater guards, and their State Department charges. We have found no Iraqi present at the scene who saw or heard sniper fire.
Witnesses say the first victims of the shootings were a couple with their child, the mother and infant meeting horrific deaths, their bodies fused together by heat after their car caught fire. The contractors, according to this account, also shot Iraqi soldiers and police and Blackwater then called in an attack helicopter from its private air force which inflicted further casualties.
Blackwater disputes most of this. In a statement the company declared that those killed were "armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately in a war zone protecting American lives".
The day after the killings, Mirenbe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, said the Blackwater team had " reacted to a car bombing". The embassy's information officer, Johann Schmonsees, stressed " the car bomb was in proximity to the place where State Department personnel were meeting, and that was the reason why Blackwater responded to the incident" .
Those on the receiving end tell another story. Mr Salman said he had turned into Nisoor Square behind the Blackwater convoy when the shooting began. He recalled: "There were eight foreigners in four utility vehicles, I heard an explosion in the distance and then the foreigners started shouting and signalling for us to go back. I turned the car around and must have driven about a hundred feet when they started shooting. My car was hit with 12 bullets it turned over. Four bullets hit me in the back and another in the arm. Why they opened fire? I do not know. No one, I repeat no one, had fired at them. The foreigners had asked us to go back and I was going back in my car, so there was no reason for them to shoot."

In fairness to the Times, possibly they were yet again leery of leaving the villa. After all, if security firms are causing tensions, their private army of black t-shirted thugs ("THE NEW YORK TIMES") may have only added to the tensions. The paper's never reported on their security guards so maybe that should be filed under "self-serving"?

The Independent of London's Daniel Howden and Leonard Doyle also provide an overview of the growth in the mercenary trade and we'll note this from that article:

A high-ranking US military commander in Iraq said: "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people."
In Abu Ghraib, all of the translators and up to half of the interrogators were reportedly private contractors.

While the mercenary trade grows, the housing market withers. Martha notes Megan Greenwell's "Fear Drives Baghdad's Housing Bust" (Washington Post):

Immediately after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, home prices in Baghdad skyrocketed, fueled by widespread expectations that the war would end quickly and foreign corporations would pour money into Iraq's economy. Rich families who had left the country under the rule of Saddam Hussein returned, buying extravagant homes in upscale neighborhoods such as Karrada, Kadhimiyah and Mansour. Scores of new real estate companies opened across Baghdad.
"All my friends were asking me how to become a real estate agent. Some weeks, I was selling a home every day to people as investment properties," said Jawad al-Maliki, who operates a real estate company in Kadhimiyah, in western Baghdad. "They thought when all the foreign investments came Baghdad would be the new Dubai."
But as the war dragged on and insurgent groups gained power, property values began a free fall that real estate agents say has not yet hit bottom. The wealthy families who had returned to fancy homes in Baghdad left again for the stability of Jordan or Syria, in many cases leaving their houses empty. Lower- and middle-class people, desperate to afford the high cost of emigrating, rushed to sell their homes for any price. Altogether, nearly a million people have been displaced from Baghdad, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
"The neighbors told us how much we could get for it based on how much the militia would pay," said Sabah Nouri Motlaq, a Sunni who helped sell his brother's house in Sadr City, an overwhelmingly Shiite slum controlled by the Mahdi Army in eastern Baghdad. "They didn't have any choice, and if we had said no, they would have pushed us out for no money or killed us."

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