Several years after its departure, the conditions under which the private security firm Blackwater carried out its missions in Iraq continue to make waves. On Monday, The New York Times revealed a document that proves the impunity the security company enjoyed during its missions in Iraq. This was an excessive power that was not unrelated to the dissolution of the Iraqi army, whose effects are still being felt today.
The company is known especially for its Bush-era blunders and staggering contracts that permitted it to prosper. On Monday, June 30, The New York Times revealed a document that proves the impunity Blackwater enjoyed in Iraqi territory at the time when the trial began – last June 11 – for the four Blackwater members who were accused of voluntary manslaughter during the Nisour Square shooting, which caused the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, 2007.
Written by an investigator from the U.S. State Department, Jean Richter, the memorandum revealed by the American newspaper shows that in August of 2007, the U.S. military administration was perfectlyu acquainted with the excesses of the security missions entrusted to the firm Blackwater. Having arrived in Iraq on Aug. 1, 2007 to evaluate the “performance” of the firm Blackwater, which was charged with protecting the American diplomats there, the investigator lists the mistakes the firm’s employees had made: a failure to maintain vehicles, employment of foreign subcontractors under difficult conditions, inappropriate employee behavior, etc.
“The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of a disturbing incident that occurred on August 21, 2007, while I was on TDY in Iraq. I found this incident disconcerting on many fronts; however, most of all, it underscored the lack of professionalism and discipline that has been systemic during the performance of our WPPS contracts in Iraq,” [http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/30/us/30blackwater-documents.html?_r=0] writes the investigator of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Blackwater, the Most Powerful Army in the World
Then, Jean Richter explains having contacted Daniel Carroll, who was in charge of Blackwater in Iraq. The first meeting was rude:
“In his response to my inquires, Mr. Carroll claimed that the WPPS II Camp Baghdad was not technically Department of State property and therefore not under Chief of Mission (COM) Authority. Mr. Carroll accentuated this point by stating that he could ‘kill me’ at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq. I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.” [http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/30/us/30blackwater-documents.html?_r=0,http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/us/before-shooting-in-iraq-warning-on-blackwater.html]
Above all, the report describes an all-powerful security firm in Baghdad, having even taken control of the American police, military and diplomatic administrations:
“The contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and control. The management structures in place to manage and monitor our WPPS contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractor themselves.”
[http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/30/us/30blackwater-documents.html?_r=0] Clearly, in 2007, Blackwater “reigned” over Iraq. There were more private contractors (180,000) than regular soldiers (160,000) there. The author of a report on the firm Blackwater, the American journalist Jeremy Scahill called it “the most powerful army in the world,” precisely describing the privatization of military affairs after the Sep. 11 attacks and the jackpot Blackwater landed in 2006, when it obtained the security contract covering American bureaucrats and institutions in 27 countries.
Jean Richter’s report was relayed to the State Department on Aug. 31, 2007 – barely two weeks before the carnage that would begin to attract the attention of the media and military authorities toward the firm Blackwater.
On Sept. 16, 2007, five American private guards, paid by Blackwater, opened fire on unarmed civilians right in the center of Baghdad. There were seventeen deaths and 24 wounded recorded among the Iraqi civilians. The guards affirm that they were attacked, which contradicts all the Iraqi witnesses. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had described the shooting as a “massacre,” and Baghdad then officially called for the departure of the firm “within six months.”
In 2009, an American judge had dismissed charges against five former Blackwater employees because the prosecutor should not have been able to use some of their statements just after the shooting. Two years later, an appeals court reinstated the charges against four employees, paving the way for the current trial.
Is Blackwater to Blame for the Dissolution of the Iraqi Army?
The company leadership will deny any fault, maintaining that its agents implicated in the Baghdad shooting felt they were under threat, but other incidents implicating members of Blackwater would be uncovered. All have been “dealt with” discreetly. Nevertheless, the Nisour Square massacre will constitute a turning point in the Iraq war, which saw anti-American sentiment prosper in Iraq. But it’s also the impunity from which the members of Blackwater benefited that provides the reasons for the failure of the negotiations between Washington and Baghdad on the maintenance of a contingent of 3,000 American instructors to train Iraqi soldiers.
In effect, Washington asked for total immunity for its soldiers, sheltering them from all legal proceedings in Iraq, which Baghdad refused.
It was impossible in 2011 for Baghdad to accord judicial immunity to American soldiers, while none of the Blackwater mercenaries had been brought to trial yet. This point constituted “a major obstacle,” according to a senior American defense official.
Notably, the state of dissolution in which the United States left the Iraqi army explains its recent disarray in front of the Islamists of ISIL. This is how Col. Michel Goya, who currently directs the research office of the Centre for Force Employment Doctrine and describes the Iraqi “sand army,” explains it:
“Despite its apparent volume, more than 300,000 men, the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi army suffers from multiple weaknesses … Its recreation, under the direction of the Department of Defense, has been laborious … Still made up exclusively of volunteers – the idea of a conscripted army being able to bring together different communities was foreign to the American reformers – poorly paid, and often absent from the ranks, this army has further lost much of its effectiveness with the end of the massive support of the American forces, which private companies have not replaced well.”
Blackwater was renamed Xe Services in 2009, then Academi in 2011, which carries out its activities under the protection of CEOs and foreign dignitaries. Upon taking office in 2009, the Obama administration broke the contract linking the company to the State Department. Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, continues his capitalist adventures by creating aeronautical and security companies. Today, he has instead relocated his activities to Asia and the Gulf in November of 2013 published a book that brings back his private army: “Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.” No less!