How a Contractor Triggered Another International Incident

Iraq, a country that our president calls a sovereign nation, wants to expel Blackwater, a private security contractor, from their country. The government of Iraq accuses Blackwater of shooting innocent civilians during a fire fight on Sunday while the company was guarding a diplomatic motorcade. They canceled the company's license but, according to the rules set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), they may not have the right to do so. Paul Bremer, head of the CPA, gave contractors immunity from Iraqi law.

The U.S. State Department, one of biggest customers of Blackwater in Iraq, is now in an awkward position because they rely on this contractor to protect them but don't want to start another incident of push and pull with the Iraqi government. Since the State Department has a civil contractual relationship with the company, they don't have total legal control over the company's actions either. Unlike soldiers who would normally guard diplomats in a foreign country, Blackwater is not under the military's Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and so there is little legal recourse or control over Blackwater's behavior in Iraq other than canceling their contract. We have placed support and security contractors in a war zone without planning on rules and oversight. We are and will continue to reap the problems from this lack of planning and foresight.

Now the State Department has even more problems with the Iraqi government and has to play a delicate legal and diplomatic dance. They have to somehow appease the angry Iraqi government while letting them know that they don't have any legal control over who shoots up their streets. They also have to keep relying on a potentially errant contractor because they have to have them to function in the country.

This is not the first time that Blackwater has interfered with the military and diplomatic policy between the U.S. and Iraq. As told in my book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War and in media accounts and lawsuits, Blackwater triggered an international incident when they sent out allegedly unprepared employees who were ambushed, killed, burned and hung on a bridge in Fallujah during the early part of the occupation.

Here is a description from my book on what happened because of a mistake of this contractor:

Unfortunately, the incident would have a domino effect leading to an explosion of insurgency violence against the troops and civilians alike and a grave threat to the stability and future of the country itself. Fallujah turned into 'terrorism central' exporting car bombs throughout the country. Senior Marine officials on the ground considered the tragedy the result of a tactical error. They intended to eventually restore stability in the area of Fallujah, but it was a tinderbox at the moment, and the Marines were being careful not to reignite it. But President Bush had other plans. America's resolve was being challenged. 'We will not be intimidated, we will finish the job,' he said through his spokesperson. This forced U.S. military commanders to plan retaliation...It was payback time. In April 2004, U.S. and Iraq forces staged an invasion of Fallujah resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi civilians and a number of Marines, before withdrawing and effectively handing the city back to the insurgents.

The battle for Fallujah also displaced 300 thousand Iraqis and leveled much of the town. This new incident may drive a wedge between the State Department and the Iraqi government, right at a crucial time when the U.S. is trying to get the Iraqi government to move on a political solution. The Iraqis are angry and tired of seeing private military contractors cowboy their way through Iraqi towns with no consequence and little oversight. The State Department feels compelled to defend their bodyguards but also has to tell the Iraqi government that they don't have any legal recourse to any potential wrongdoing by contractors with guns in their own country.

We want Iraq to start to take responsibility for their country but insist that our contractors do not have to follow their laws. Do we really expect them to believe that we truly want them to become a sovereign nation? Until the administration and the Congress start to get legal and financial control over these contractors in Iraq, they will continue to negatively affect the outcome of this war. It is just a matter of time before another incident by a contractor will put us even farther behind in developing a functioning nation in Iraq.