by Madhavi Bhasin
On July 7th the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in an Address before the Arab Ambassadors stated that his Government was looking at the necessity of terminating foreign presence on Iraqi land and restoring full sovereignty. The U.S. public diplomacy machinery began operating in full swing after the statement was released and has emerged with a self justifying explanation: the remarks of the Iraqi Prime Minister are reflective of the confidence in the stability and democratic progress of Iraq facilitated through the efforts of the Coalition Forces. The venue and timing of the comments are being considered crucial. The regional concerns over Iraq’s stability were expected to be put at rest, while convincing the local population of the independence of the Iraqi regime ahead of elections in autumn.
The more serious considerations behind the demand to begun negotiations for a withdrawal strategy and date have evaded popular attention.
In September 2007, 17 Iraqis died as a result of unjustified and unprovoked shooting at the Nisour Square. Personnel of Blackwater Worldwide, a private agency contracted by the U.S. to operate in Iraq, were involved in the shooting. A week later the Iraqi Government revoked the license of Blackwater to operate in the country. In the last week of September, Blackwater received a contract worth up to $92 million from the U.S. State Department. In April 2008 the assignment to provide personal protection for diplomats in Iraq by Blackwater has been renewed for the third year. The FBI is still investigating the killings at Nisour Square; more than 30 witnesses have been questioned and three Iraqis have testified before the Federal Grand Jury in May 2008. Neither the lives of the ordinary Iraqis nor the decisions of the Iraqi Government were taken into consideration while renewing the contracts for Blackwater.
“This is bad news,” Sami al-Askari, advisory to Prime Minister Maliki said, “I personally am not happy with this, especially because they have committed acts of aggression, killed Iraqis, and this has not been resolved yet positively for families of victims.” The neglect of such crucial Iraqi concerns by the U.S. has in fact prompted the demand for withdrawing foreign troops from Iraqi soil.
The Nisour Square killing is not an isolated incident. In February 2007 a Blackwater sniper shot three Iraqi guards, without provocation, ironically from the terrace of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. In October 2007 a Blackwater personnel was so heavily drunk that he killed the bodyguard of the Iraqi Vice-President. In the same month an Iraqi civilian was shot for simply driving too close to the State Department convoy.
The Iraqi Government has come to realize that the U.S. is attempting to run the Iraqi state through private contractors who cannot be held accountable for their misdeeds. The Report from the American Congressional Research Service in July 2007 clearly indicated that the Iraqi government has no authority over private security firms contracted by the U.S. Government. A shocking incident in the Green Zone in 2006 has demonstrated that the Blackwater personnel have gained greater impunity than the regular U.S. armed forces. A SUV driven by Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee. The Blackwater guards disarmed the army soldiers and forced them to lie on the ground at gunpoint until the vehicle was recovered.
Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater has been a major financial supporter of the Republican Party. Hence Republican Presidential candidate John McCain is an obvious supporter of Blackwater. Even Democratic Presidential candidate Barak Obama has refused to rule out the deployment of private security companies in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki has realized that the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq is a lucrative business venture for the American private firms like the Blackwater Worldwide. Echoing the popular sentiment the Iraqi Foreign Minister stated that there will not be ‘another colonization of Iraq.’ This is precisely the reason that Iraq has demanded more time for discussions on the Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S.
The mission statement of Blackwater Worldwide reads: “Blackwater efficiently and effectively integrates a wide range of resources and core competencies to provide unique and timely solutions that exceed our customers stated needs and expectations”. The poorly equipped yet struggling indigenous Iraqi forces might be no match for the Blackwater, but it will surely be a national armed force serving and remaing accountable to the Iraqi people.
The demand of Prime Minister Maliki is less reflective of his confidence in the stability of Iraq and more a sign of the growing apprehensions over the privatization of the Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
Madhavi Bhasin is a Doctoral Researcher at the Jadavpur University, India. Her research areas include conflict resolution, South Asia and Middle East. Currently based in California and working on Indo-U.S. Missile Defense Cooperation and India’s Public Diplomacy Strategy.