The $10,000 Iraqi Civilian

Just how much is an Iraqi life worth? I don't know but, in the aftermath of the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees at Nisoor Square in September 2007, apparently Iraq and the United States, had very different ideas, according to one of the recently released Wikileaks cables. (Note: One can find all the Wikileaks cable concerning Blackwater here.

The cable shows, not surprisingly, that the Iraqi and U.S. governments were magnitudes of order apart on what an Iraqi life was worth.

According to the cable the U.S. Embassy in Iraq obtained a copy of the Government of Iraq's investigation report of the September 16 incident at Nisoor Square. The report recommended payments of $8 million and $4 million for each death and injury respectively, and called for the USG to replace Blackwater within six months of the incident.

At that time the Embassy had begun accepting claims from victims of the incident and approved payments of $10,000 for each death, $5,000 for each injury, (800 times less than the Iraqi figure for both death and injury) and $2,500 for property damage.

The cable said the Iraqi government report stated "the conduct of the PSD violated Iraqi law and a number of CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] orders and that therefore the incident is a pre-meditated murder for which the Blackwater personnel must be held accountable. It also claims that the Ministry of Interior has information on seven other instances in which Blackwater personnel killed 10 Iraqis and wounded 15 others."

Perhaps the most interesting part of the cable is at the end:

Numerous editorial cartoons have been published depicting Blackwater as bloodthirsty mercenaries. While the escalation of the Turkish border issue has been dominating the media, the Blackwater incident will likely remain a prominent issue for editorials and political cartoons as the unpopularity of private security firms makes it an easy target.

This seems to indicate that the embassy regarded criticism of private security contractors as just an image problem, and not a serious oversight and accountability concern.

According to another Feb. 7 2008 cable the U.S. Iraqi embassy had, at that point, paid "132,500 dollars to claimants: 40,000 dollars to the families of 4 killed, 65,000 dollars to 13 injured, and 27,500 dollars to 11 claimants for vehicle damage."

An interesting passage from this cable is:

Blackwater Condolence Payments

¶19. (C) On January 18, 2007, the DCM and RSO met with Blackwater representatives and were briefed on Blackwater,s intentions to make condolence payments to the victims of the September 16 Nisur Square incident and to obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Interior. In a change from Blackwater's previous position, the representatives said that Blackwater has hired a number of Iraqi attorneys, including one who has had significant experience dealing with MNFI on Iraqi claims cases, to work with local courts on payment issues and plans to follow procedures for payments as determined by local laws and regulations. Blackwater has set aside "a generous pot" of money for these payments and the Iraqi attorneys will be contacting survivors and relatives of the deceased. Representatives said that they intended to make payments to all claimants, including those with lawsuits pending in the United States, largely because they did not expect those lawsuits to be successful. They also said that they would take into account the specific requests and circumstances of the claimants where possible.

¶20. (C) Blackwater is also moving ahead with efforts to obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and said that through their lawyers' communications with the MOI they were told that Prime Minister Maliki would approve the licensing of Blackwater if condolence payments are made. They have received this same assurance from members of the Ministry of Interior responsible for licensing.

¶21. (C) The DCM told Blackwater that the Embassy believed it was morally correct for Blackwater to make condolence payments. She also indicated that while the Embassy welcomes this action by Blackwater, it will not have any effect on the DOS/Embassy decision on whether to retain Blackwater, and that in regards to the MOI licensing issue, under no circumstances could the Embassy approve of or in any way be part of a bribery effort. The Blackwater representatives indicated that they understood and that the process would be straightforward and transparent.

In fairness, Blackwater was more generous than the U.S. government when making compensation. The cable notes "On average, Blackwater said it expects they will pay at least twice as much as what the Embassy paid and substantially more for victims or families that were more significantly impacted by the incident."