Blackwater’s mercenary soldiers hinder U.S. progress in Iraq

Blackwater, the largest U.S. private security firm in Iraq, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The firm is currently facing investigation by a Congressional committee for its role in the recent shooting in a Baghdad square. In the shooting that took place Sept. 16, Blackwater guards killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 12 others, according to BBC News.

Both Blackwater and the U.S. State Department maintained that the guards acted in self-defense after insurgents attacked the U.S. diplomatic convoy they were protecting. However, eyewitnesses and a later Iraqi government report said the guards opened fire on innocent civilians without provocation, BBC News reported.

The worst part of the story is this shooting is not an isolated incident that took place by chance. Further probing into Blackwater’s records shows us a chilling history of violent and unruly conduct in Iraq.

Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents in Iraq since 2005, and in more than 80 percent of those cases Blackwater guards were the first to open fire, according to a U.S. congressional report. Additionally, in the majority of cases, the guards fired their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded, the report said.

The incident also sheds light on a different question: According to BBC News, there are nearly 50,000 armed private security guards in Iraq, so with more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers already there, why are these private guards needed?

The fact is, the United States almost exclusively employs private guards to protect U.S. diplomats and other officials outside of the safety zone; without these private security guards, U.S. diplomats would not be able to do their job.

To think that U.S. diplomats cannot do their job without the help of private security guards — not U.S. soldiers, mind you — one has to wonder, after five years of fighting and with over 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, just how little security there is in that country.

More pathetic, however, was the Iraqi government’s feeble protest against the shooting and the practice of employing unaccountable private security contractors.

Amid roaring public outrage, the Iraqi government initially revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq and ordered its personnel to leave the country immediately. However, not only did Blackwater remain in Iraq, it also resumed limited operations four days after the shooting. The firm was back in full operation within a week, according to BBC news.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the shooting a “criminal act” and an inquiry by the Iraqi interior ministry has concluded the security guards were “100-percent guilty.” The congressional report supported these claims.

Yet the Iraqi government cannot bring any charges on these Blackwater guards, mercenaries in effect, responsible for the reckless shooting, because private security contractors are not subjected to Iraqi law. That’s a slap in the face of a country’s sovereignty if there ever was one.

If a government doesn’t even have the power to protect its people from foreign private armed guards, how is it expected to oversee a turbulent country?

What role has the United States been playing in this sticky situation? As “liberators” of Iraq, surely the United States would stand up for the people it liberated, right?

In the past, U.S. diplomats once helped a Blackwater employee leave Iraq less than 36 hours after he killed a bodyguard of one of Iraq’s vice presidents while drunk. He faced no criminal charges, according to a BBC News article.

And in the Baghdad shooting incident, the U.S. State Department’s approach is “to make monetary payments to put the matter behind us,” the Congressional report said.

The “liberators” now allow trigger-happy private security guards to fire at will upon the “liberated” Iraqi civilians and refuse to investigate such criminal actions.

Remember the Republicans’ claims that the U.S. troops would be welcomed by the Iraqis upon entering the country? Well, even if it were true several years ago, there is no way on earth it can be true now.

Personally, I am disappointed by how little reaction the American public has had on this atrocity. Certain people must feel that since the United States has already liberated the Iraqis, it’s a job well done.

This shows how little regard the public has for the lives of Iraqi civilians. Imagine if this shooting took place in Washington — how would the public react then?

This column is not aimed against the Iraq war, but rather against the killing of innocent civilians. The victims of the shooting and their families deserve justice, and the United States has yet to serve justice to the perpetrators.

On a broader view, the United States can only win the hearts of the Iraqis by showing that they are regarded as equal human beings with the same rights of American citizens, both in theory and in practice.

As it is obvious the United States is unwilling to do that, perhaps it’s best to give Iraqis their chance of securing their own rights.

Linsen Li is a history and journalism junior. E-mail [email protected]