BAGHDAD - The recent attacks by Blackwater mercenaries in Baghdad are far from
the first – and many believe they will not be the last.
Seventeen Iraqis were killed Sept. 16, and another 27 were wounded at Nisoor
square in western Baghdad when mercenaries from the company opened fire on them.
Dozens of witnesses said that, contrary to Blackwater claims, the mercenaries
had not come under attack.
Several Kurds who were at the scene said they saw no one firing at the mercenaries
at any time, an observation corroborated by forensic evidence. Kurds are one
ethnic group that has been supportive of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation
of Iraq. The Kurd witnesses work for a political party whose building looks
directly down on the square where the bloodshed occurred.
"I call it a massacre," Omar H. Waso, a senior official from the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told reporters. "It is illegal. They used
the law of the jungle."
"Some of the victims were Iraqis who were close to the government,"
an eyewitness speaking on the condition of anonymity told IPS. "There was
a notable fuss about five or six bodies in particular when the Ministry of Interior's
inspectors arrived on the scene."
The history of Western mercenary companies, often referred to as "security
contractors," is full of such stories.
"They killed my young neighbor Sinan in cold blood," a 32-year-old
using the name Ibrahim Obeidy told IPS. "They have killed so many Iraqis,
and no one can even ask them why."
"Iraqis in Anbar province [to the west of Baghdad] have always said that
strange-looking forces have conducted executions in cold blood," Abdul-Sattar
Ahmed, a lawyer from Ramadi, told IPS. "Groups of men in civilian outfits,
but in armored vehicles and sometimes helicopters, have carried out the most
mysterious executions. They seldom arrest; they prefer to kill."
Salih Aziz, who works with the Iraqi Group for Human Rights, an NGO in Baghdad,
told IPS that Blackwater convoys, which usually comprise several large, white
SUVs, have proven deadly for Iraqi civilians since the early months of the occupation
in March 2003.
"Since the very beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Baghdad streets
have seen peculiar looking groups of men in armored cars with black glasses,
killing anyone who approached them," said Aziz. "They were the first
to be hated by Iraqis."
Blackwater USA came to international attention when four of their mercenaries
were killed in Fallujah March 31, 2004. The incident led to two brutal U.S.
military sieges of the city.
The November siege of that year left approximately 70 percent of the city destroyed.
Tens of thousands of residents remain refugees to this day.
"It is all about business and moneymaking," Malik Nizar, a 50-year-old
businessman in Baghdad, told IPS. "Top corporate officials, like the CEO
of Blackwater, Erik Prince, are making billions of dollars out of security contracts
in Iraq, and they would not give it up for the world."
Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill is the author of the best-selling book
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
"From documents I obtained, it is clear that Blackwater has been contracted
for some $750 million in private armed security services for the U.S. State
Department alone," Scahill told IPS in a telephone interview.
"The extent of its total U.S. contracts worldwide in unknown, as Blackwater
also does covert work for the government, and its overt work is shrouded in
secrecy and layers of bureaucratic protection."
Scahill said that while Blackwater is now under increased scrutiny, it is continuing
to win lucrative contracts in Washington.
"These include a recent $92 million Pentagon contract to operate flights
in Central Asia, as well as a share of a whopping $15 billion contract to fight
the so-called war on drugs," Scahill told IPS. "Even if Blackwater
loses its overt Iraq contract, this company will continue to make a killing
off the U.S. taxpayers."
The political fallout from the incident in Baghdad last month has led the Iraqi
government to accept the findings of an Iraqi investigative committee that Blackwater
guards are guilty of the killings, and that they acted without provocation.
The Iraqi investigators said Blackwater should be expelled from the country
and demanded $8 million compensation for the family of each victim. Officials
decided last week to establish a committee to find ways to repeal a 2004 directive
issued by L. Paul Bremer, head of the former U.S. occupation government in Iraq,
which placed private security companies outside Iraqi law, making them immune
Many Iraqis are angry that Blackwater enjoys special rights.
"I was shot at while driving my car in Baghdad in December 2004,"
Saad Mohammad Saed, an NGO worker in Baghdad, told IPS. "I recognized the
vehicles to be with a private security company. My car was destroyed and my
survival was a miracle, but when I went to court to file charges, they told
me they could not question those people."
While it could not be verified that this incident involved Blackwater personnel,
there is deep public anger with the company.
Such incidents continue. Two Iraqi women were killed in Baghdad last week.
Maro Bougos and Jenna Jalal were driving in a white Oldsmobile when they were
shot dead by men from a private security convoy. Three children in the back
"Will [U.S. President George] Bush or [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki
or any politician look after my sister's children after bringing death to their
mother?" asked Bougos' brother, who was at the scene of the attack.
(Inter Press Service)