The Iraqi government has demanded the US end all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months. They have also demanded $8 million in compensation to families of those killed in a massacre caused by Blackwater guards last month. The report was published by the Iraqi defence ministry in response to the Baghdad incident in which 17 people died. (photo credit: ABC News)
An Iraqi government spokesman said Blackwater’s claim that a US diplomatic convoy it was guarding was bombed and ambushed was not supported by the findings. Iraq says the convoy did not sustain attack and is now calling on the US to hand over the employees to face trial. “Employees of the company violated the rules governing use of force by security companies,” said the report. “They have committed a crime and should be punished under the law.”
The deaths took place on 16 September on a typically hot day in Baghdad. That day Blackwater were guarding USAID specialist Kerry Pelzman who had an appointment for a planning session on rebuilding Iraqi services at a meeting place several kms from the Green Zone. While the meeting was in progress, a bomb exploded nearby. Blackwater guards immediately bundled Pelzman back into their convoy of three bullet-proof GMC Suburbans and raced back towards the Green Zone. The front and rear cars of the convoy were protected by gun trucks, known as Mambas, each mounted with two 7.62 mm machine guns.
As the convoy approached Nisoor Square traffic circle at the edge of the Green Zone, the convoy radioed for backup because of the risk the explosion might be a diversion for a kidnapping operation. Four additional Mambas arrived at the circle to stand watch for the convoy. There is no fully mutually agreed story on what happened next. As the final car in Pelzman’s convoy passed the circle, the gunner opened fire on an approaching car driven by Ahmed Haithem Ahmed, a 20-year-old third-year medical student. Ahmed was driving his mother to pick his father up from a nearby hospital. A Blackwater bullet struck Ahmed in the head and he died instantly. But with Ahmed’s weight on the accelerator, the car continued to roll forwards towards the convoy. Blackwater continued to fire at the car until it exploded, killing Ahmed’s mother in the passenger seat.
Blackwater personnel then sprayed the traffic circle with heavy machine gun fire hitting several other cars. Blackwater claim they were fired upon, Iraqi witnesses say they fired without provocation. As the gunfire continued, one of the Blackwater guards began screaming: “No! No! No!” and struggled with his colleagues to stop the shooting, according to an Iraqi lawyer. The lawyer got stuck in traffic and was shot in the back as he tried to flee. He was one of 24 wounded. At the time it was believed that 11 Iraqis died but the toll has been revised to 17. Many cars were were hit pointing away from the square. Afterwards, Blackwater released a terse statement saying that its guards were fired upon and responded appropriately.
The Blackwater company was founded in 1997 by former US Navy SEAL commando Erik Prince. According to their own blurb, Blackwater are a “professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions”. Prince comes from a well credentialed Republican family. His father, Edgar Prince, built Prince Corp., an auto parts and machinery manufacturer, into the largest employer in Holland, Michigan. The son landed an internship in the early 1990s in the White House under then-President George Bush snr.
After his father died in 1995, Erik sold the business and invested the profits in Blackwater. He won his first major contract in 2000 after the USS Cole bombing when the Navy looked for someone to train sailors to identify and respond to terrorist threats. 9/11 was Prince’s breakthrough. His company’s profits soared from $200,000 in federal contracts in 2000 to nearly $600 million last year. Erik Prince now has a thousand security guards in Iraq in mostly no-bid contracts. In the wake of the 22 September shooting, he was called to give evidence to a long running congressional inquiry into the running of private security firms in Iraq. Prince told the inquiry he didn’t like the term mercenaries to describe his operation. “We are Americans,” he said, “working for Americans.”
Prior to the Nisoor Square massacre, the highest profile Blackwater incident occurred 24 December last year. Iraqi Raheem Khalif Hulaichi was on guard duty that night at Vice-President Adel Abdul Mehdi's compound inside Baghdad's fortified green zone when he was shot by a Blackwater guard. Witnesses to the incident told US investigators the guard who shot Hulaichi was visibly drunk and smelled of alcohol. The guard insisted he shot in self-defence. The dead man’s wife said she had not received any money because the Iraqi government felt the sum offered by Blackwater was too low. She said she also believed the Blackwater guard who shot her husband had been detained in Baghdad to face trial. Instead he was flown home by US officials and never charged with a crime.