October 6, 2007
Does USA's Most Powerful Private Militia Fuel Iraq's Insurgency?
By Anthony Barnes
The accounts, chronicled in a congressional Oversight Committee memo, are nothing short of disturbing.
- In November, 2005, in an act even Blackwater officials acknowledged as outright, "random negligence," a Blackwater-guarded motorcade on its way to an Iraqi Oil Ministry basically demolished 18 civilian vehicles -- six on its way to the ministry, and another dozen during the return trip.
- In December, 2006, a deeply intoxicated Blackwater contractor, apparently without provocation, gunned down a guard for Iraqi Vice President, Adil Abd-al-Mahdi and was quickly spirited out of the country by Blackwater.
- On September 9 of this year, Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein, a clerk in the Iraqi customs office in Diyala province, was killed when Blackwater security contractors responded to rocks throwing with a barrage of automatic weapons fire into a crowded intersection. Witnesses reported a Blackwater guard shot Hussein repeatedly after she had struggled to her feet. Four other Iraqi civilians were killed in the incident.
- In other incidents, each cited in State Department documents, Blackwater forces shot a civilian bystander in the head; sought to cover up a shooting that killed an apparently innocent bystander; and provided no assistance after a traffic accident caused by its "counter-flow" driving protocol left an Iraqi vehicle in "a ball of flames."
- Then there was the recent widely publicized incident of September 16 this year, when a Blackwater contingent fired indiscriminately into a crowd killing anywhere between 11 and 17 Iraqi civilians, and wounding an additional 24.
These acts, brutish, savage, indeed violently deviant though they may be, are nevertheless among war's inevitable realities, we're often told. Indeed, it's also been argued that such acts are perhaps more likely to be expected in wars waged against a guerilla-style insurgency which -- at least among many Iraqi insurgents -- transcends the material vestiges of the here and now. In these "unconventional" wars, the shadowy enemy one faces sees his effort as one of not just ridding his country of its invaders, but also as a means of attaining martyrdom.
Nevertheless, though well aware that the casualties of war accrue in a variety of manifestations, for more than a few Americans, the skittish and malevolent, trigger-happy attitude these incidents depict, come, like the Abu Ghraib scandal, as a complete shock.
Meanwhile, to anyone acquainted with the outré, turgidly cocksure, over-the-top personality type of the former Navy Seals, Special Ops-types, and other gung-ho para-militarists embodying the ranks of private militias wherever found, none of the extremes come as a surprise.
In fact, precisely because war is hell, one such type, Blackwater Worldwide founder and former Navy Seal Erik Prince, would like us to believe that his private, for-profit heavily-armed and equipped adjunct to the U.S. military, serves as a bulwark shielding the "civilized" of Iraq, namely: diplomats; Iraqi or foreign government officials; U.S. politicians; and, of course, well-heeled disaster capitalists, from the unfettered mayhem and the senses numbing carnage reported in places like Baghdad and Fallujah.
Prince insists that we view the role of his Blackwater contingent in Iraq -- none of whom are constrained in their actions by the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and each of whom enjoys complete immunity from Iraqi courts -- as a detachment designed to enable the 160,000 member U.S. force in Iraq to more adroitly damper down the insurgency and stabilize a nation of 27 million packed in an area roughly the size of California.
In its own way, Prince would further insist, Blackwater Worldwide is doing its part to help bring "freedom and democracy" (author's quotes) to the volatile Middle East. He'd love us to believe that, by accepting dangerous security assignments -- protecting construction projects, ministries and oil fields; escorting diplomatic convoys; and serving in a wide range of additional life-threatening capacities in the harrowing mise en scene which is Bush-era Iraq, -- Blackwater, rather than a feckless siphon of more than a billion U.S. taxpayer dollars, is in fact, an invaluable commodity that prevents the siphoning of needed U.S. soldiers from Iraq's urban war zones.
In his early October appearance before the congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Prince, once an intern for George H.W. Bush, asserted that Blackwater's contributions have had a positive impact on the war effort.
"Our professionals work to keep American officials and dignitaries safe, including visiting members of congress," Prince insisted. "In doing so, more American service people are available to fight the enemy."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates' September testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee seemed to imply that he sees it a bit differently. Gates' testimony included expressions of concern over the practice by Blackwater and other for-profit militias of offering high salaries to entice soldiers into leaving the military. Gates said he'd like to see legal barriers imposed against the practice.
But beyond that issue, it would seem that through its ongoing lethally-reckless behavior, Blackwater continues to pollute any pool of goodwill that ensue U.S. military efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds, all but ensuring the improbability that the need for U.S. soldiers in Iraq can be abridged anytime soon. Additionally, among private for-profit militias like Blackwater, for which continued social and political instability clearly translates into a stable profit flow, having the added bonus of immunity from criminal liability is yet another corporate perk.
The impression that instability serves as the obvious lifeblood of Blackwater is evident not only in the steady growth it has enjoyed as a company since attaining its original no-bid assignment from the State Department to work in Baghdad and Al-Hillah. Blackwater's use-of-force record, which, according to the State Department is "frequent and extensive," could be seen as another indicator of this for-profit, private militia's relish for mayhem.
According to the Oversight Committee report, though legally bound to engage only in defensive use of force, "...in practice, the vast majority of Blackwater weapons discharges are preemptive, with Blackwater forces firing first ... prior to receiving any fire."
It seems clear that as long as for-profit private militias like Blackwater are permitted to operate with such indiscriminate and deadly impunity with immunity from local prosecution, it seems assured that the continued presence of U.S. soldiers will remain vital to offset the wave after wave of new "enemy" spawned by blowback from Blackwater's lurid standard operating procedures, an operating procedure that, again, tends to produce a very profitable bottom line for Blackwater.
In the social services arena, there's a popular, if not utopian notion that in the best case scenario, social workers will do their jobs so well that they will succeed in ending poverty, illness and all forms of social malaise. The ironic endgame to that success is that the social workers would basically put themselves out of a job.
In essence, Blackwater's apparent business plan would seem to take this approach and, with a perverse and deadly twist, turn it on its head. But obviously, despite any characteristics of social engineering inherit to the work of "building a democracy," Blackwater is no social services agency.
That notion has been amplified by critics including P.W. Singer, of the Brookings Institution, who takes a dim view of affiliations between Blackwater-type private security contractors and the U.S. military. In an article posted on Salon.com. last month, Singer, noted that after close to a decade of studying such arrangements, the available data indicates: "...the use of private military contractors appears to have harmed, rather than helped counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq, going against our best doctrine and undermining critical efforts of our troops." In other words, Blackwater and other for-profit private militias basically help sustain the insurgency.
Indeed, as noted by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D-Ill) in a recent Blackwater related article in the Washington Post: "It's really affecting attitudes toward the United States when you have these cowboy guys out there. These guys represent the U.S. to (the Iraqis) and there are no rules of the game for them."
That sentiment runs throughout the Oversight Committee memo which includes an assertion by a senior U.S. military official that the impact on Iraqi attitudes toward U.S. forces resulting from Blackwater's behavior "may be worse than Abu Ghraib."
Thus, to extrapolate to some degree, one could assume that for-profit private militia's like Blackwater, whose revenues are generated largely through American tax dollars, have a vested interest in undermining any goodwill efforts of American forces in Iraq. Since it generates the bulk of its revenues through providing its services in dangerous or heavily militarized environments, by fomenting and maintaining -- whether knowingly or unknowingly -- a violent, anarchistic environment by way of its behavior in Iraq, Blackwater contributes to conditions which justify the need for its presence there. Indeed Rep. Waxman pointed out that, "For every taxpayer dollar spent on federal programs, over 40 cents now goes to private contractors."
Thus, it's fairly easy to envision an incentive to generate a steady stream of new insurgents by inciting "local nationals" -- the Blackwater term for Iraqi citizens -- into the insurgency through a cacophony of dehumanizing treatment and indiscriminate killings. It's worth noting that since 2005, according to State Department and Blackwater documents, in over 80 percent of the nearly 200 shooting incidents in Iraq involving Blackwater, the Blackwater personnel shot first.
Yet another disturbing report which raises questions about the role America's most powerful private militia plays in maintaining regional instability, is the charge, stemming from a federal investigation announced in September, that Blackwater has been engaging in arms smuggling. The charges allege that Prince's spirited crew of "loyal Americans" have been illegally smuggling into Iraq, weaponry to be funneled to the Kurdistan Workers Party, considered a terrorist group.
Longstanding issues between Iraq and the Kurds during Saddam's reign aside, it's difficult to comprehend how providing arms to factional movements can result in anything other than a continuation of the regional instability which is Blackwater's economic bread and butter.
Knowing this, it becomes exceedingly difficult to escape the dreadful conclusion that for U.S. forces, Blackwater has a sort of al Qaeda effect. Each moment our nation's most powerful for-profit, private militia spends in Iraq, extends further the period during which rank and file U.S. soldiers will remain in harm's way.
Each moment adds to the list of U.S. casualties; of flag-draped coffins secretly whisked out of Iraq to be flown into Dover Air Force Base in the dead of night.
Each moment increases the frequency of the dreaded solemn visits from military chaplains and fellow soldiers to homes of deceased service men and women. Visitors who are accompanied not by a family member in uniform, fortunate to have made it back alive, but instead, by a carefully folded American flag, and perhaps, a bible.
For Blackwater however, these are moments that register like a taxicab's fare meter as the for-profit militia's deep pockets grow flush with over one billion American tax dollars and counting. In an example of skewed priorities, U.S. service men and women earn a mere fraction of what Blackwater pays its personnel -- as much as $180,000 yearly, all U.S. taxpayer dollars -- while Blackwater personnel experience a mere fraction of the dying (30 Blackwater casualties thus far, according to Prince).
Just the ugly side of capitalism? Or, the stark representation of the old adage that all's fair in love and war?
Whichever, the reality is that while the Iraq war will continue to deepen the pockets of Blackwater, America's most powerful for-profit private militia, the prolonging of that war, to a considerable degree a result of Blackwater's unconscionable, perhaps suspiciously reckless behavior, can only serve to deepen the divide that the ill-fated post-911 decision to initiate a war with Iraq has created within the American people.
As such, in the case of Blackwater, we have seen the enemy; and it is us.
Authors Website: http://www.freewebs.com/non_prophet/
Authors Bio: Anthony Barnes, of Boston, Massachusetts, is a free-lance writer
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
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