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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Blackwater USA in hot water over Baghdad firefight

After an explosion rocked their convoy, Blackwater USA security contractors spilled out of their SUV’s and opened fire in a busy Baghdad square to protect the American diplomatic convoy for which they were running security. In the resulting firefight on Sept. 17, 10 Iraqi civilians and a police officer were killed, according to BBC News.

Blackwater USA maintains that its highly armed security team responded “legally and appropriately” in press releases, and the initial State Department report states that eight to 10 insurgents dressed as civilians and Iraqi police fired on the convoy.

CNN and the Washington Post reported that a car carrying a husband, wife and their infant were shot at until the car exploded after they ignored an Iraqi traffic officer and drove towards the convoy. Blackwater helicopter gunships responded to the scene – unconfirmed reports to CNN say firefights erupted between the insurgents and the choppers and the Iraqi police in a nearby watchtower also opened fire.

“They started shooting randomly from four positions in the square, killing 11 civilians and injuring 12 others,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf to BBC News. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has said that after the bomb exploded, the Blackwater convoy opened fire at random into the crowd of unarmed civilians and that no insurgents were present. The Iraqi Interior Ministry claims to have surveillance camera footage of the incident they have yet to release.

“I swear to God no one shot at the security company,” said a Baghdad lawyer shot four times in the incident to BBC News.

“They shot us randomly – no one shot them,” said another man wounded in the firefight, to the BBC.

Describing itself as “the most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world,” Blackwater USA is a private military corporation based out of Moyock, NC, that protects State Department personnel in Iraq.

Contracted in Iraq through the State Department rather than the Department of Defense, Blackwater has operated in Iraq with little oversight, as even its movements and shooting reports are not tracked by the U.S. military according to the Washington Post. Charged with protecting State Department buildings and officials, Blackwater prides itself on the fact that it has yet to lose a single person they have protected. However, The New York Times reports that “among the rank and file of security contractors, Blackwater guards are regularly ridiculed as cowboys who are relentlessly and pointlessly aggressive, carry excessive weaponry and do not appear to have top-of-the-line training.”

The Iraqi Interior Ministry and Blackwater have a history of hostility. Outside the Iraqi Interior Ministry on May 24, a Blackwater team killed an Iraqi driver and was immediately surrounded by an Interior Ministry commando team brandishing AK-47’s. The resulting standoff between the Interior Ministry commandos, Blackwater personnel, and a passing U.S. Army convoy, required a State Department mediator to sort out.

Blackwater security forces returned to the Green Zone without having provided their names or reasons for shooting a civilian outside the gates of the most powerful local security force in Iraq, and the Washington Post reports that since the incident Blackwater helicopters routinely buzz the Iraqi interior ministry in insult, “almost like they were saying, ‘Look, we can fly anywhere we want.'”

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has revoked Blackwater USA’s license to operate within Iraq, issued arrest warrants for the Blackwater contractors involved, and ordered Blackwater to leave the country.

Blackwater still operates with State Department support in the Green Zone, as Coalitional Provisional Authority Order 17 shields all security contractors from Iraqi prosecution. Also, Blackwater USA never had a license to be in Iraq in the first place.

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