SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
On Monday, Iraqi authorities, responding to a shootout that left as many as 20 Iraqis dead, announced that they were banning Blackwater USA from operating in their country. It seemed the fledgling government was finally taking a stand regarding the proliferation of mercenaries working for the United States government in Iraq. “Blackwater has made many mistakes resulting in other deaths, but this is the last and the biggest mistake,” said Brigadier General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry. “Security contracts do not allow them to shoot people randomly. They are here to protect personnel, not shoot people without reason.”
For its part Blackwater insists that its guards, who were accompanying a State Department convoy, fired not randomly but in defense of its clients. “The ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies,” said Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater. (For more on Blackwater, see my article “Contract with America: Hard terms for the soldier of fortune” in the October Harper’s.)
About 180 private companies now supply a shadow force of more than 130,000 civilians—30,000 of them armed—who do everything from securing U.S. Army bases and personnel in Iraq to delivering supplies and guarding the American ambassador there. And never before has the Iraqi government threatened a major contractor with expulsion. Of course, it’s up in the air as to whether Iraq really has the power to ban the United States’ most prominent security contractor. Blackwater’s contract is with the U.S. State Department, not with the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the Iraqi government can’t even require Blackwater and other private military companies to abide by Iraqi law, not since U.S. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer issued his infamous Order 17, which granted American contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
Nevertheless, the Iraqi government has announced that it will revoke Blackwater’s operating license. Good luck with that–Blackwater’s license actually expired last year. Since then, about a thousand of its guards have been carrying out such high-profile tasks as guarding U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and other senior American diplomats and escorting convoys throughout Iraq with the company’s armed “Little Bird” helicopters and black SUVs. Since the company can’t be prosecuted under Iraqi law, it’s not clear how Iraq would suddenly begin to enforce the licensing process. And so far it hasn’t.
“There has been no official action by the Ministry of the Interior regarding plans to revoke licensing,” Blackwater’s Tyrrell said on Tuesday.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Blackwater has been questioned about a violent episode in Iraq involving its workers. Last Christmas Eve, an inebriated Blackwater employee shot an Iraqi official’s bodyguard. The employee was reportedly fired but not prosecuted.
On Monday, a State Department spokesman said that Condoleezza Rice had called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to express her regret “over the death of innocent civilians that occurred during the attack on an embassy convoy.” She said nothing about revoking Order 17 or otherwise making the United States’ private army accountable to the law. Meanwhile, the official State Department incident report agreed with Blackwater’s assessment that their security guards’ fire was “defensive”–but neglected to mention that Iraqis were killed and wounded by the bullets.
The State Department has failed to return repeated requests for comment. I will update this story if they reply.
Daphne Eviatar is an attorney and a senior reporter at The American Lawyer.
More from Daphne Eviatar:
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:
Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”