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.