Blackwater Still Armed in Iraq

Published on
by
The Nation

Blackwater Still Armed in Iraq

by
Jeremy Scahill

Despite the Iraqi government's announcement earlier this year that it
had canceled Blackwater's operating license, the US State Department
continues to allow Blackwater operatives in Iraq to remain armed. A
State Department official told The Nation that Blackwater (which
recently renamed itself Xe Services) is now operating in Iraq under the
name "US Training Center" and will continue its armed presence in the
country until at least September 3. That means Blackwater
will have been in Iraq nearly two years after its operatives killed
seventeen
Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square.

"Authorized personnel under that task order are permitted to continue
carrying weapons until that time," said a State Department diplomatic
security official who spoke on condition that his name not be used. He
added: "The purpose and mission of the Department of State's private
security contractors is limited to protection of US diplomats and
diplomatic facilities only and is defensive in nature."

That last point will come as little comfort to Iraqis. The Blackwater
operatives involved with the Nisour Square killings on September 16,
2007, were operating under that very description. "The public perception
in Iraq is that Blackwater is no longer operating in the country; that
they were kicked out and their license revoked," says Raed Jarrar, the
Iraq consultant at the American Friends Service Committee. "The public
perception is that they are gone already. This is very disturbing."

The State Department's confirmation of Blackwater's continued armed
presence in Iraq comes a week after a former Blackwater employee alleged
in a sworn statement
that the company's owner, Erik Prince, views
his company's role as fighting a Christian crusade to "eliminate"
Muslims
and Islam globally, alleging that Prince's companies "encouraged and
rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

According to the State Department, Blackwater's sole remaining contract
for diplomatic security in Iraq is an aviation contract. As The
Nation
recently reported, the
Obama administration extended that
contract on July 31, increasing Blackwater's payment by $20 million and
bringing the total paid by the State Department to Blackwater for its
"aviation services" in Iraq to $187 million. Blackwater has also been
paid over $1 billion by the State Department for "diplomatic security."
The large, publicly traded company DynCorp is scheduled to take over
Blackwater's aviation contract in September, while Triple Canopy will
get the lion's share of the protective security work in Iraq.

On January 28, the Iraqi government announced that it was not issuing
Blackwater a license to operate in Iraq, saying the company needed to
leave once private security companies were officially placed under the
jurisdiction of Iraqi law, as outlined in the Status of Forces
Agreement. "Those companies that don't have licenses, such as
Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately," declared Iraqi Interior
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf. Despite these
declarations, Blackwater remained. "Why were they allowed to stay for
seven months without any operating license?" asks Jarrar.

The language of the Status of Forces Agreement that took effect January
1, 2009, technically places Defense Department contractors under the
jurisdiction of Iraqi law, but it appears to exempt State Department
contractors such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp from Iraqi
jurisdiction. Whether that has played a role in Blackwater's continued
presence in Iraq is unclear. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other
officials "gave a lot of lip service after the Nisour Square massacre,
promising to prosecute Blackwater and ban them from Iraq, but they've
done nothing," says Jarrar. "It seems they were deliberately deceiving
the public without actually holding the State Department or Blackwater
accountable."

A week after Nisour Square, Maliki's government said it would ban the
company. "The Iraqi government is responsible for its citizens, and it
cannot be accepted for a security company to carry out a killing,"

Maliki said
on September 23, 2007. "There are serious challenges to
the
sovereignty of Iraq." (The Iraqi government did not respond to a request
for comment.)

Meanwhile, Blackwater continues to have a substantial presence in
Afghanistan as well. There it also operates under the banner of US
Training Center on a diplomatic security contract for the State
Department's Worldwide Personal Protection Program. It also works for
the Department of Defense under the banner of Paravant LLC, another
Prince-owned company. Four Paravant operatives are
under investigation
by the US military over the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians in
May.

Blackwater is bidding on more contracts in Afghanistan, which is
increasingly becoming the new gold mine for the war industry. Nearly
70,000 contractors are now deployed in Afghanistan on the US government
payroll, meaning there are now more contractors than US soldiers
(48,000) in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry has licensed
nearly forty private security companies who collectively employ 23,000
people in Afghanistan. These companies also control 17,000 weapons
there. In addition to those hired by the State Department, the US
Department of Defense has about 4,300 security contractors in
Afghanistan, and these numbers are steadily increasing. In the second
quarter of 2009, the Obama administration increased the number of armed
private contractors in Afghanistan by 29 percent.

"I'm not surprised that this transition is happening," says Sonali
Kolhatkar, author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and
the Propaganda of Silence
. "We were warned before the election of
Obama that Afghanistan was going to be the top war priority, so it is
not
surprising that Washington would dedicate much of its war machinery to
Afghanistan." As for Blackwater, she says: "If they build the same
record of killing civilians in Afghanistan that they had in Iraq, it
will cement the Afghan resistance even further against the US
occupation."

On August 6, Representative Jan Schakowsky wrote letters to Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates citing
Blackwater's "history of abuse" and called on Clinton and Gates "not to
award further contracts to Xe and its affiliates and to review all
existing contracts with this company." Neither department has responded
to Schakowsky.

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