Friday, September 21, 2007

Blackwater Refuses To Leave Iraq Despite Ban

Iraqi Prime Minister has no authority over U.S. contractor mercenaries, witnesses and experts provide scathing testimony

Despite having their license revoked by the Iraqi government, and being banned from operating in the country all together, The private contractor company Blackwater USA is continuing operations in Baghdad and has refused to pull its operatives out of Iraq.

After being blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki officially stated that Blackwater had been grounded and that its operatives were not welcome in Iraq. However, after just four days Blackwater personnel have resumed operations in the green zone.

A US spokeswoman, Mirembe Nantongo, told AFP:

"We have resumed limited movement today. It is very limited and all missions need to be pre-approved. The decision was taken by us in consultation with the Iraqi government. All convoys will be protected by PSDs (private security details). Yes, it is Blackwater."

The issue is expected to be on the agenda when Maliki holds talks in New York next week at the United Nations General Assembly.

Proof if ever it was needed that the Iraqi government really has no authority over its own country which has been effectively sold into the hands of private mercenary armies that are literally running riot.

Blackwater still maintains that its employees came under attack and were defending themselves. However Iraqi civilians at the scene have provided damning testimony indicating that there was absolutely no provocation and it was Blackwater who instigated the violence. One witness who is in hospital with four shot wounds described the incident to CNN:

Hasan Jaber Salman lies in Yarmouk Hospital, bandages covering gunshot wounds in his back.

Salman says he is a lawyer who was headed from a courthouse to the Ministry of Justice when he found his route blocked by four armored Blackwater SUVs.

The roadblock soon caused a traffic snarl, so armed Blackwater guards began waving at the drivers, telling them to turn around and leave the area.

"So we turned back, and as we turned back they opened fire at all cars from behind," Salman said. "All my injuries, the bullets are in my back.

"Within two minutes the security force arrived in planes -- part of the security company Blackwater. They started firing randomly at all citizens."

Everyday Iraqis have dubbed the mercenaries "Mossad" and many have gone on record to state that at separate times they have witnessed Blackwater contractors killing innocent people in the street without a care.

The U.S. State Department is to investigate the incident. The chairman of Blackwater USA, billionaire Erik Prince, a long time GOP donor and former Navy SEAL, has been asked to testify before Congress about the security company's activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, today gave testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Scahill blasted Blackwater in a scathing testimony, referring to the contractors as "Hired Guns" and "above the law".

Scahill exposed the fact that Blackwater, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in US taxpayer funds, has been involved in scores of incidents that have led to untold amounts of death and destruction and that their actions have been utterly criminal and reprehensible, yet the company remains completely unaccountable and is subject to no oversight whatsoever.

Scahill's full testimony follows.

Das Hammes, the US military official once overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi military, has described driving around Iraq with Iraqis and encountering Blackwater operatives." [They] running me off road. We threatened intimidated,? said. But, he added, ?they doing their job, exactly what in way paid to do it, and they making enemies on every single pass out of town.? Hammes concluded the contractors were ? hurting our counterinsurgency effort.

Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division said of private security contractors, "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force.... They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place." Horst tracked contractor conduct for a two month period in Baghdad and documented at least a dozen shootings of Iraqi civilians by contractors, resulting in six Iraqi deaths and the wounding of three others. That is just one General in one area of Iraq in just 60 days.

The conduct of these private forces sends a clear message to the Iraqi people: American lives are worth infinitely more than theirs, even if their only crime is driving their vehicle in the wrong place at the wrong time. One could say that Blackwater has been very successful at fulfilling its mission--to keep alive senior US officials. But at what price?

It is long past due for the actions of Blackwater USA and the other private military firms operating in Iraq--actions carried out in the names of the American people and with US tax dollars--to be carefully and thoroughly investigated by the US Congress. For the Iraqi people, this is a matter of life, and far too often, death. In the bigger picture, this body should seriously question whether the linking of corporate profits to war making is in the best interests of this nation and the world. I would humbly submit that the chairs of relevant committees in both the House and Senate use their power of subpoena to compel the heads of the major war contracting companies operating on the US payroll in Iraq to appear publicly before the American people and answer for the actions of their forces. I am prepared to answer any questions.


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