Iraq revoked the licence of one of the biggest American security companies in the country yesterday after eight civilians died in a gunfight in Baghdad.
The Interior Ministry said that it would prosecute any foreign contractors working for Blackwater USA found to have used excessive force, and suggested that it would expel hundreds of other employees.
The move would be resisted strenuously by the US Government, whose security arrangements will be thrown into chaos if Blackwater can no longer operate in Iraq. The company has lucrative State Department contracts to protect hundreds of US government officials and dignitaries, including Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador.
Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, planned to telephone Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, to express regret for the deaths and promise an investigation to ensure there would be no repeat. Mr Maliki called the shootings a "crime".
The above is from Martin Fletcher's "US security loses licence after civilians are killed in gun battle" (Times of London). Ned Parker's "U.S. rushes to smooth Iraq's anger over Blackwater" (Los Angeles Times) notes the US State Department's rushing in to defend the mercenaries (mercenaries they have not only dependend upon for years, but ones they granted immunity to)
The swift response to Sunday's deaths marked Iraq's boldest step to assert itself against foreign security contractors who have long been accused of racing through Baghdad's streets and firing without restraint at anyone they see as a threat. It also cast a focus on the continued lack of control by American officials over heavily armed private security contractors, at least 20,000 of whom supplement the U.S.-led military forces that invaded Iraq in March 2003.
[. . .]
But several contractors predicted Monday that it was unlikely the Iraqi government would carry through with the threat to expel Blackwater."For all intents and purposes they belong to the [U.S.] Department of State," one contractor said of Blackwater employees, who have themselves often been the victims of violence, including the gruesome 2004 incident in Fallouja when four guards were killed and mutilated.
Parker quotes a Brookings (Institute) baby who frets that Americans might be turned over to Iraq's legal system because the system is inadequate. That would be the same system that has been sentencing Iraqis to death without any concern from Brookings. AFP notes the baby posted his summary (predictions posing as analysis) at the institute's site yesterday and gives a nod to the ever changing US story on the incident:
US and Iraqi sources in Baghdad said Sunday's shooting erupted after a bomb exploded near a US diplomatic convoy, but a US government incident report said armed insurgents fired on the convoy and Blackwater guards responded.
Al Jazeera reports US Secretary of State and Anger Condi Rice spent 15 minutes on the phone with puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki pleading Blackwater's case and observes:
The moves by the Bush administration appear unlikely to forestall a congressional inquiry into not just Sunday's events but the government's increasing reliance on the use of contractors in Iraq.
"The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors," Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said.
He said his committee would hold hearings to determine "what has happened and the extent of the damage to US security interests".
Kim Sengupta (Independent of London) files a strong account (possibly because the paper's not merely relying on others since staff was present when the slaughter took place)
Yesterday, in an extraordinary telephone news conference, the US embassy spokeswoman could not answer whether the company was still working for the Americans inside the Green Zone, or what its legal position was along with similar foreign contractors within Iraq.
The shooting started after a car bomb blast killed two soldiers and lasted for more than 20 minutes, with civilians seeking safety in stores and behind cars. Afterwards the Blackwater convoy roared away from the scene, shoving cars out of their way with their armoured four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicles (SUVs).
Initially, the US embassy said the contractors, who were providing security for State Department officials at a meeting, had reacted after coming under small arms fire. Later, however, it said they had "reacted to the bombing".
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Ann Scott Tyson tells some realities about the much praised and overly hyped 'model' province of Al Anbar:
Security is deteriorating in southern Iraq as rival Shiite militias vying for power have stepped up their attacks after moving out of Baghdad to avoid U.S.-led military operations, according to the latest quarterly Pentagon report on Iraq released yesterday.
"The security environment in southern Iraq took a notable turn for the worse in August" with the assassination of two governors, said the report, which covers June through August. "There may be retaliation and an increase in intra-Shi'a violence throughout the South," it said, whereas previously the violence was centered in the main southern city of Basra.
[. . .]
The growing violence in the south is one factor making it unlikely that Iraq's leaders -- hampered by a "zero sum" mentality -- will make headway in the fall on key political resolutions, the report concluded. "In the short term, Iraqi political leaders will likely be less concerned about reconciliation than with consolidating power and posturing for a future power struggle," it said.
[. . .]
But in another trend seen in earlier reports, attacks spread outside the Baghdad area, rising in neighboring Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, where security remains "fragile," as well as in some southern provinces, the report said.
Third jump is the spreading out from Anbar in the 'model' province, repeatedly cited in testimony to Congress last week.
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ann scott tyson
the washington post