Monday, September 24, 2007

Blackwater mercenaries unjustified shootings were caught on tape.

Blackwater USA has proven what Europe knew at the end of the Thirty-Years War. Mercenary armies are over-priced and lack the professionalism, training and control necessary to achieve effective results in a combat situation, even assuming they can be convinced to fight.

While Blackwater may be keeping American diplomats alive, their murderous cowboy antics lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the local population in the Iraqi counterinsurgency. They proved it again when they shot up a bunch of civilians because a car did not get out of their way fast enough in Baghdad traffic. The New York Times provides the report based on the investigation conducted by the Iraqi government.
BAGHDAD, Sept. 21 — Iraq’s Ministry of Interior has concluded that employees of a private American security firm fired an unprovoked barrage in the shooting last Sunday in which at least eight Iraqis were killed [Snip]

In the first comprehensive account of the day’s events, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior said that security guards for Blackwater fired on Iraqis in their cars in midday traffic.

The document concludes that the dozens of foreign security companies here should be replaced by Iraqi companies, and that a law that has given the companies immunity for years be scrapped. [Snip]

In the Interior Ministry account — made available to The New York Times on Thursday — Iraqi investigators interviewed many witnesses but relied on the testimony of the people they considered to be the four most credible.

The account says that as soon as the guards took positions in four locations in the square, they began shooting south, killing a driver who had failed to heed a traffic policeman’s call to stop.

“The Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation,” the report concludes.

The shooting enraged Iraqis, in part because they feel powerless to bring the security companies to account.

[Highlighting mine - Editor, WTF-o.]
Here is the description of the event as described in the report of the Iraqi government investigation:
The report said that Mr. Maliki had “demanded” that the State Department drop Blackwater as a protector, “for the sake of the two nations’ reputation.”

In the Interior Ministry’s version of that day, the events began unfolding when a bomb exploded shortly before noon near the unfinished Rahman Mosque, about a mile north of Nisour Square. Embassy officials have said the convoy was responding to the bomb, but it is still unclear whether it was carrying officials away from the bomb scene, driving toward it to pick someone up or simply providing support.

Whatever their mission, and whoever was inside, the convoy of at least four sport utility vehicles steered onto the square just after noon and took positions that blocked the flow of midday traffic in three directions. But one family’s car, approaching from the south along Yarmouk Street, apparently did not stop quickly enough, and the Blackwater guards opened fire, killing the man who was driving, the ministry account says.

“The woman next to the driver had a baby in her arms,” said an official who shared the report, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share it. “She started to scream. They shot her,” the official said, adding that the guards then fired what appeared to be grenades or pump guns into the car as it continued to move. The car caught fire.

“The car kept rolling, so they burned it,” the official said.

The account said that the guards entered the square shooting, although Ali Khalaf, a traffic policeman who watched events from a flimsy white traffic booth on the edge of the square and spoke in an interview on Thursday, said a guard got out of the sport utility vehicle and fired.

Mr. Khalaf, who has also been interviewed by American investigators, spoke standing near his traffic booth on Thursday afternoon. He said that he had tried to reach the woman in the seconds after the man she was riding with was shot. But a Blackwater guard killed the woman before he could reach her, Mr. Khalaf said.

What is still unknown is when, or if, Iraqi security forces stationed in at least two compounds adjacent to the square began firing their own weapons.

If the Iraqis began firing early in the episode, investigators could conclude that the Blackwater guards believed they were under attack and were justified in conducting what they might have considered to be a counterattack. Some of the casualties could also have been caused by bullets fired by Iraqis.

Mr. Khalaf, though, said that he never fired a shot. When one of the American investigators asked why he did not fire at the Blackwater convoy, Mr. Khalaf said, his answer was simple.

“I told him I am not authorized to shoot, and my job is to look after the traffic,” Mr. Khalaf said.
CNN reports that the Iraqis have videotapes of the incident raqi official says video shows Blackwater guards firing on civilians.

For what it's worth, I do not blame the individual Blackwater troops for this incident. Any combat zone is an extremely frightening place to be, and professional soldiers have an ethic that instead of running from where the shooting is, like civilians, instead they run to the sound of gunfire. I have no doubt that the Blackwater employees are that kind of professional.

Beyond the eight civilians killed, this incident is as much a loss in the counterinsurgency in Iraq as Abu Ghraib was. It was a failure of leadership of a type much more common to mercenary troops than to trained government troops, and it doesn't help that the contract that Blackwater has is with the Department of State, not with the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense simply does not have the necessary professional expertise required to properly control Blackwater or any other mercenary force operating in a combat zone.

See my next post for the mechanics of the problem.

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