September 17, 2007

Blackwater Blackballed

An American security firm that has become synonymous with private security in Iraq will no longer have permission to operate there. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has revoked Blackwater's license after the fatal shooting of civilians after an attack on a US State Department motorcade. The move may put more pressure on the US military to provide support for such events in the future:

The Interior Ministry said Monday that it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad.

The ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday incident.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight people were killed and 13 were wounded when security contractors working for Blackwater USA opened fire in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad.

"We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities," Khalaf said.

Khalaf made a point to note that the immunity given to US troops in Iraq from prosecution does not apply to private security contractors. The Iraqis intend to investigate the shooting deaths, and if they find excessive force was used in response to the attack, they will prosecute the individual contractors for murder. Such a move may be intended to express solidarity with the presumably Sunni victims of the shootout, but it will also strain relations between the US and the Maliki government.

The motorcade came under small-arms fire as it passed through the Sunni Mansour district. One car broke down, and security forces had to extract the occupants and move the motorcade out of the range of the fire. Apparently that's when security forces attempted to return fire, killing several and wounding more.

The State Department has already begun its own review of the incident, and it has pledged to cooperate with the Iraqis. They have to tread carefully, as much is at stake. We need to hold people accountable for excessive use of force, and that means on an individual basis as well as on a corporate basis. However, Blackwater and other security firms supply the US with a great deal of flexibility, providing security for journalists, visiting dignitaries, and the thousands of rebuilding projects that we hope will make life better for the Iraqis. Without their assistance, we ould have to increase our troop deployment levels for guard duty, which makes them more vulnerable to attack. And given the difficulty in doing that, we will more likely stop providing security for these efforts and start scaling back our involvement out of necessity on humanitarian projects.

I should note that I have a good friend who worked for Blackwater and spent considerable time in Iraq, fulfilling those missions. Most of these men are former military, and in my friend's case, former special-ops forces. They have had extensive training on the use of lethal force and understand when to apply it and when not to apply it. That doesn't mean someone didn't screw up in Mansour yesterday, but it does mean that they deserve the benefit of the doubt while State and the Iraqis conduct their investigation. Given the politics of the situation, I suspect Blackwater will not get its license back soon, if at all.


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Comments (28)

Posted by onlineanalyst | September 17, 2007 7:22 AM

I suppose that "Screw 'em Kos" and his Khaos Krew will be doing a happy dance over this news. Nothing beats their championing of turmoil than the destruction or undermining of corporate security forces.

Posted by Adrew | September 17, 2007 7:24 AM

Ed: Far more balanced review than most. I would note that, according to most news reports, the car "broke down" after an IED was exploded.

Posted by arch | September 17, 2007 7:31 AM

Isn't Interior dominated by Al Sadr's supporters? I heard there were 14,000 let go, but the loss of Blackwater might make it easier for his militia to make trouble.

Posted by TomB | September 17, 2007 7:36 AM

Who is going to investigate and punish apparent use of civilians as human shields by the attackers?
I'll help here: Nobody.
Expect copycat attacks and more contractors to get the boot.

Posted by daytrader | September 17, 2007 7:40 AM


Yes the will because the 4 contractors who died and were hung from the bridge that day were from that company.

Blackwater has a lot of equity in Iraq , because they are not the only ones they have lost over the term of this war.

I have a personal stake in this, since I knew one of the guys that was hung from that bridge that Kos did his famous "screw them" line about.

There is also a well known embedded reporter from Iraq/Afghanistan named Michael Yon who was an even much closer friend to him.

I know many people in the private security contractor space.

What was done here was wrong, and they usually get it better.

But it has no comparison to what has gone on between the locals doing to each other.

They did no beheadings, using drills to bore holes into victims or any of the real barbarous atrocities we have all heard about.

A situation just gone horribly wrong.

Now I agree they she be withdrawn because of that situation which went over the top.

But realistically , who is going to replace them and the service they provided for the last 4 years or more?

Posted by daytrader | September 17, 2007 7:46 AM

More proofreading
They SHOULD be withdrawn

Posted by Bennett | September 17, 2007 7:56 AM

Better to be banned from Iraq than hung from a bridge.

I think this will all fade away with some quiet accommodation made here (payments to the families, etc.). It's not really to the Iraqi government's advantage to have a huge spotlight focused on how its own police and other security forces can't keep the streets safe.

Posted by Paul from Florida | September 17, 2007 7:59 AM

Who benifits?

Gee, pulling Blackwater couldn't be a way to pillow the surge by drawing off troops?

Someone not getting enough cash for license? Or, not enough someones, or the right someones?

Posted by Jweaver | September 17, 2007 8:03 AM

I think either Blackwater will create a dummy corp for a license or Iraq will have to decide whether we stay or go. This just seems to be another case of allowing the Sunnis to kill our people and if killing soldiers are not allowed, they will simply move to kill the contractors.

Posted by El Coqui | September 17, 2007 8:14 AM

And Contractors will shoot back. So I see a vicious circle in the making.

Without contractors we would be needing double the force that we got there now.

I am sure that going to watch that news item closely.

Blackwater offered to put together a brigade for peace keeping operations and this is not going to help.

El Coqui

Posted by Av8tor | September 17, 2007 8:31 AM

Blackwater does provide a great service here in Iraq and they are very professional. They provide security of the majority of high ranking officials here (Iraqi, U.S., and other nations). I was near yesterday's events and someone made a terrible mistake which has cost many lives and damage to property. It is still not clear if it was Blackwater or another private security company (there are to many to count).
Human shields were not used and the ISF have several checkpoints in the area. A by product of increased security is increased traffic as people feel safe enough to go about their lives. Most of these PSDs have had the luxury of breezing through traffic or have fired their weapons in the air to clear traffic (a very bad practice). With the amount of checkpoints and traffic those tactics have to change. It may simply be a case of someone getting nervous while stuck in heavy traffic which had deadly consequences.

Posted by docjim505 | September 17, 2007 9:11 AM

It will be interesting to see what the investigation uncovers AND if there is a general feeling that the Iraqis are trying to conduct an INVESTIGATION instead of a witch hunt. If the former, despite the problems it may cause to not have Blackwater around to supplement our troops and the ISF, I welcome it as it shows a level of maturity in the Iraqi government and (hopefully) a desire to enforce and obey the rule of law. If the latter... It'll be damned hard to support the Iraqi government if they play stupid games.

Posted by Master Shake | September 17, 2007 9:35 AM

And how many of these "civilians" just happened to be military-age males with weapons on the ground next to them?

Posted by Jeff | September 17, 2007 9:52 AM

They should pull all security details off of all Iraqi politicians and government offices immediately ... Protect yourselves you ungrateful piss ants ...

Posted by davod | September 17, 2007 10:11 AM

My comments are prely conjecture. I have no on the ground experience in Iraq.


"With the amount of checkpoints and traffic those tactics have to change. It may simply be a case of someone getting nervous while stuck in heavy traffic which had deadly consequences."

No IEDs, no vehicle broken down, no attack?


The immediate withdrawal of Blackwater's license is not evidence of a level of maturity. It is evidence of a quick judgement that Blackwater was in the wrong. The Interior ministry is not known for its balanced view on anything (note also that the "Dead" will be buried without an autopsy and the "families" and Imams will refuse permission for the exhumation of the bodies.)

Blackwater is probably protecting a few of the ministry's enemies. Look to a number of high profile assasinations soon.

The only hope for the Blackwater contractors is if someone was videotaping the scene of the attacks or, alternatively, if the convoy was being shadowed by a UAV with video coverage.

Posted by coldwarrior415 | September 17, 2007 10:14 AM

Blackwater for the most part has quitted itself well under the most difficult of circumstacnes and conditions. Not to the same standards as the Army and Marines, but well, by most standards of civilian security outfits I have seen over the years.

What is of concern to me are the large number of unregulated civilian security outfits including American companies that operate across the globe, and not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of which do not have the employment standards of Blackwater. Back in the days of the Biafra War there were a couple outfits that hired unemployed British factory workers and youth with promises of cash, lots of it, to go to war in the manner of Colonel Mike Hoare's Wild Geese in a glorious crusade in the dark regions of the world. The attrocities committed and the number of inexperienced mercenaries who needlessly died for lack of training, equipment and leadership was and still is appalling. Blackwater does not fit into this category.

But, the larger point is, how do these security outfits conduct themselves, what is the level of training required, what psychological testing and criminal checks are done, and what is the minumum standard of proficiency required to be hired? Seems that by offering these outfits unfettered access to global hot spots is asking for trouble.

I would assume that since the USG contracted Blackwater there is some sort of oversight all up and down the Blackwater chain of command. If not, why not? If so, who is exercising that oversight?

Further, these civilian outfits SHOULD be subject to local laws. It is incumbent on Iraq to conduct an investigation with very high standards of evidence and professionalism. To do otherwise, no matter how good some Iraqis might feel about a witch hunt, would be another nail in the coffin for the Maliki government, as it should be. Maliki and those under him have a duty to end the sectarian violence, and come to terms with a new Iraq. Failure to do so will make all of our efforts moot.

I'd rather see more U.S. Special Forces training teams like those currently operating in Mali, Lebanon, Ethiopia and elsewhere doing the training of locals than to have swarms of mercenaries who think they can defy local laws or act as independent military entitites operating in theater.

Posted by David M | September 17, 2007 10:18 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/17/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Posted by old white guy | September 17, 2007 10:27 AM

what ever you do, don't fight back. some pc liberal might get upset. shoot first.

Posted by Okonkolo | September 17, 2007 11:28 AM

The benefit of using contracted labor for Iraq is that after the action is over, you don't have all these people in the military. This incident is one of the bad sides. We have 100K contractors in Iraq, probably about a fifth of them armed. Blackwater is the gold standard, and they aren't perfect, as this and the management blunder that led to the bridge incident demonstrate, so I wonder what the other armed companies are like. As one poster mentioned, one would assume there are oversight measures in place, but everything with armed contractors is so secret it is really hard to know. Bennett may be right and this will blow over and Blackwater, under a new subsidiary will continue. If not, there's thousand more troops that will be pulled into guard duty.

Posted by docjim505 | September 17, 2007 11:46 AM


I agree that pulling Blackwater's license before an investigation is complete is a little hasty. When I wrote earlier about maturity, I meant that the Iraqis are conducting an investigation rather than (a) brushing it under the rug or (b) acting by fiat. It remains to be seen whether it's a real investigation or just a kangaroo court with some bare minimum trappings of due process.

Posted by Av8tor | September 17, 2007 12:23 PM


No evidence yet of an attack or IED that I am aware of. Broken down vehicle, highly probable. It appears more likely to be an nervous trigger finger which is highly possible. I interact with the local populace and ISF on a daily basis and I watch the faces of westerners the first time they are out in the red zone interacting with the locals. They are extremely nervous which is understandable. These are also the people I worry about causing an incident that damages our reputation and puts my life more at risk since I work daily with the Iraqis. Retaliation from locals is now an issue for me.
These private security companies don't interact with the local populace and until recently they haven't had to deal with traffic, especially at the intersection through which they were trying to pass. It is notoriously slow and clogged due to construction.

Posted by bud | September 17, 2007 7:31 PM

Maliki originally had Blackwater people as his personal bodyguard (sort of inheirited from Bremer) - he dismissed them because he didn't trust them (for a somewhat good reason: none of them liked him very much) and replaced them with Shia relations (very much in the Iraqi tribal tradition). OTOH, Talibani has kept his Blackwater guards because he trusts them and they like him.

It seems to me that Maliki is operating in a "Tammany Hall" mode that seems to be endemic in mid-east politics: corruption designed to improve the lot of your relatives at the expense of everyone else, and this is a tactical move by him against the pressure being applied by the US against this mode.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 17, 2007 7:55 PM

In this incident, the Blackwater folk PROTECTED the occupants of the car. Who were sunnis.

The shooters were Maliki's Shi'a. So what's in it for him? He's just angry that a few bad guys got killed because they were shooting at a government convoy.

If I have to guess? Maliki's about as secure as Assad these days.

And, he's lashing out.

If you need more information that Maliki is cracking, I can't give it to you. But he's not as "in charge" as he believes.

And, a motorcade that's "official" that gets shot at; and the occupants get protected BY Blackwater; aren't about to "go" anywhere.

Whose gonna check this out? Reporters from the New Yuk Times? You think there are any in Baghdad? And, if so, in what bar? It's been a long time since the enemy-media does much except try to spill oil on a going fire. Creeps and cowards.

"Revoking paperwork" in irak is a government joke.

And, don't forget, Maliki isn't paying these bills. The people PAYING, are the ones who had their lives saved. Even kooky arabs understand the debt.

Posted by gaffo | September 17, 2007 8:29 PM

"US troops in Iraq from prosecution does not apply to private security contractors. The Iraqis intend to investigate the shooting deaths, and if they find excessive force was used in response to the attack, they will prosecute the individual contractors for murder."

sure, and pigs fly.

"diplomatic immunity"

mark my words.

Posted by firedup | September 18, 2007 12:40 AM

What are you supposed to do when fired upon, especially in Iraq? A quick read tells me the private security was providing cover for having to move passengers from one vehicle to another; risking their own lives in the process, I might add.

My most essential question, though, is what is a U.S. State Department motorcade? I mean, I have no idea who were in those vehicles and their purpose for being in Baghdad?

Posted by davod | September 18, 2007 4:01 AM


You write as if you were just waiting to ascribe guilt. Your comments are written to give you some implied authority - you were close to the action, but not close enough to see what happened.

There have been a number of incidents where the coalition forces were adjudged guilty immediately, only to have the real evidence find that they were indeeed under attack and the eye witnesses not so truthfull. As far as the Blackwater contracters is concerened, what would you or your felow sympathizers have said a couple of years ago if those four Blackwater contractors had escaped under fire instead of being butchered, burnt, and strung up on a bridge?

"According to the incident report, the skirmish occurred at 12:08 p.m. on Sunday when, "the motorcade was engaged with small arms fire from several locations" as it moved through a neighborhood of west Baghdad. "The team returned fire to several identified targets" before leaving the area. One vehicle engine was hit and disabled by bullets and had to be towed away. A separate convoy arriving to help was "blocked/surrounded by several Iraqi police and Iraqi national guard vehicles and armed personnel," the report says. Then an American helicopter hovered over the traffic circle, as the U.S. convoy departed without casualties. Some reports have said the helicopter also opened fire on Iraqis, but a Blackwater official told TIME that no shots were fired from the air.

Some eyewitnesses said the fighting began after an explosion detonated near the U.S. convoy, but the incident report does not reflect that. The Blackwater official declared that, contrary to some reports from Iraq, "the convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job, they fired back to defend human life." The official said that "Blackwater is contracted to work in a war zone, its personnel are under frequent fire, and all the rules of engagement permit them to defend themselves"

Posted by NeoConOne | September 18, 2007 7:08 AM

I am in Iraq now. Blackwater security operates as a de facto mercenary force and has a mixed reputation. These guys get between $1000 and $3000 a day (yes, a day) and have little accountability. Some, probably many of those who were lured primarily by the big bucks, have abused their free wheeling status. Although seen as a necessary evil by some, they are seen by others as simply evil, and not quite necessary. I didn't realize until recently that the contractors hung on the bridge in Baghdad sometime back were not engineers or technical folks, but Blackwater contractors. My outrage over that incident has had to admit to a lesser role.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 18, 2007 8:48 PM

Maliki wanted Ambassador Crocker dead.

Because our military is tied to the Iraqi forces; there was a decision to put BLACKWATER contractors on the route when Crocker was returning from the USA, to his Baghdad base.

Real guns came out shooting. And, BLACKWATER returned fire.

Sure, Maliki can cause a stink, and ask the contractors to leave. But I don't think Bush is fooled.

I've already followed a link at InstaPundit, which brought me to THIS, at the Corner. I posted it to another thread, which may now be dead?

Most of the "news" we're getting, we're figuring out on our own. So, this is worth reading:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

State Dept. vs. the Pentagon on Iraq [Stephen Spruiell]

A disturbing bit of news in the New York Sun today: Eli Lake reports that the Sunni sheik who was assassinated Thursday was supposed to be in the United States last week, but his trip was delayed. The State Department says a problem with the paperwork held up the visa, but a military official told Lake that State Department officials deliberately sabotaged the trip:

Yesterday, a State Department spokesman confirmed that Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi had applied for a visa to visit Washington. "We cleared him with absolutely no reservations, and the visa was being held up due to paperwork with the application and sponsor," the spokesman said. [...]

An American military official yesterday said the delay in Abu Risha's visa was in part political. This source pinned the decision to scuttle the trip on senior leaders at the State Department. However, the State Department spokesman yesterday dismissed the charge.

According to the military official, the State Department in particular is wary of following through too much on General David Petraeus's "bottom up" strategy. "There were howls of complaints when Abu Risha met with President Bush over Labor Day," this official said. "The truth of the matter is that the more we strengthen the tribes, the less cooperation we are going to get from the Sunnis in Baghdad."

I asked a former State Department official who currently works for the Pentagon if there was a danger that this sort of infighting could undermine Gen. Petraeus's strategy. He said that as long as Petraeus had the full support of the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, dissent at Foggy Bottom would likely remain limited to these sorts of petty squabbles. "[Crocker] isn’t doing one thing that hasn’t been approved by the Secretary of State," he said. "There are debates within the State Department, of course, but Condi Rice has made the decision and Ambassador Crocker is being a loyal soldier.

"Dissent within the State Department, particularly from a guy who doesn’t like the administration, who goes outside the policy and tries to put focus on himself, there’s nothing unusual about it," he said, adding that most career diplomats were Democrats. "If you don’t have dissent at the State Department, there’s probably a Democrat in office."

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