Iraq: Blackwater Incident Could Further Undermine Premier
September 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The killing of 11 Iraqis in Al-Nusur
Square in western Baghdad on September 16, allegedly by Blackwater USA security
contractors, has enraged Iraqis for more than a
Details of the
incident remain unclear, but Iraqi officials and witnesses at the scene contend
that the contractors opened fire on unarmed civilians without provocation. This
contradicts claims by the company and U.S. officials that a State Department
convoy guarded by Blackwater contractors came under fire, and the contractors
reacted in a defensive manner by returning fire.
The incident has touched
a nerve and has angered Iraqis on several fronts. Blackwater contractors have
long been accused of using aggressive tactics without regard for the well-being
of Iraqis. In the aftermath of the Al-Nusur killings, the Iraqi Interior
Ministry noted that Blackwater contractors have been linked to six other violent
incidents, including the killing of three Iraqi security guards at a television
station in Baghdad on February 7.
However, it is the issue of not holding
Blackwater and other private security firms accountable for their actions that
has truly roiled Iraqis and created the impression that Iraq's sovereignty is
Iraqis Feel Sovereignty Challenged
initial reaction by the Iraqi government after the Al-Nusur Square incident was
to revoke Blackwater's license, expel the company from Iraq, and have the
contractors involved in the shootings brought to justice in Iraq. However, it
seems that none of this may actually occur.
Even as Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki described the incident as a "crime" and many Iraqi lawmakers called
for Blackwater to suspend all activities, the company continued to operate after
a brief hiatus. While officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad indicated that
Blackwater was carrying out only vital missions, this underscores the
frustration expressed by many Iraqis that they do not have control over what
goes on in their own country.
Moreover, according to Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 17, private contractors "shall be immune
from the Iraqi legal process," essentially meaning there is no chance of the
contractors allegedly involved in the Al-Nusur incident being prosecuted under
Iraqi law. Iraqi officials have indicated that the recent shootings may prompt
them to amend CPA Order 17 and create new guidelines for dealing with foreign
Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on September 23
that prior to the Al-Nusur incident, Iraqi officials had repeatedly complained
to U.S. officials about Blackwater's overly aggressive methods and how they were
operating without regulation. Deputy Interior Minister Husayn Kamal said, "Our
complaints went nowhere."
Furthermore, the issue of Iraq's sovereignty
continues to be raised after the arrest of an Iranian national, Mahmud Farhadi,
by U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah on September 20.
The United States accused Farhadi of being an officer of the Al-Quds Force, a
secret military wing of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, who was trying to
smuggle weapons into Iraq.
However, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
insisted Farhadi was a member of an Iranian trade delegation that was in the
region "with the knowledge of the federal government in Baghdad and the
government of Kurdistan." Both Talabani and al-Maliki condemned the arrest and
demanded Farhadi's immediate release. The arrest prompted Iran to close its
border with Iraq's Kurdish region in protest, and Kurdish officials have warned
that the local economy would suffer as a result of the United States' unilateral
A Further Blow To Al-Maliki
As the Blackwater
incident continues to play out, it remains to be seen how it will impact
al-Maliki's political standing. The country is still in the midst of a political
crisis, with the major Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front,
continuing to boycott the government by refusing to allow its ministers to
rejoin al-Maliki's cabinet. The absence of Sunni lawmakers has been a blow to
al-Maliki's efforts at fostering national reconciliation.
his Shi'ite-dominated coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), al-Maliki is
facing defections and withdrawals that threaten his government. On September 15,
the political bloc of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with 32 seats in
parliament, withdrew from the UIA, claiming that it was being sidelined from the
Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, the head of the Al-Da'wah
Party-Iraq Organization, later announced that his party too might consider
pulling out of the UIA if the Shi'ite rift was not healed. This fueled
speculation that opponents of al-Maliki were trying to bring a no-confidence
vote against him and bring down the government.
There have been also
murmurings in the Iraqi media that former Prime Minister and Islamic Al-Da'wah
Party member Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was set to announce the formation of a new
political coalition, the National Reform Grouping, that would counter the
moderates' front established by the UIA and the Kurdish Alliance in mid-August.
If it is formed, the new coalition is expected to be the largest in parliament
and al-Ja'fari may seek to replace al-Maliki as prime minister.
Al-Maliki Powerless To Act?
Based on the current political landscape,
those who oppose al-Maliki may use the Blackwater incident to further erode his
already tenuous political position. If the joint U.S.-Iraqi commission set up to
investigate the Al-Nusur incident finds that some of the Blackwater contractors
opened fire without provocation, but are not punished or do not end up standing
trial in Iraq, then al-Maliki could be seen as a U.S. puppet and lose any
Indeed, al-Maliki's vociferous condemnation of
the shootings and calls for those accused to face justice, despite his
understanding that CPA Order 17 will make it virtually impossible to do so, is
arguably an attempt to assuage public anger and shore up his political
However, the reality of the situation is that nothing
substantial may actually change regarding the Blackwater incident. The Iraqi
government has already quickly backtracked from suspending the company's
activities in Iraq outright, claiming it may actually lead to greater problems
in the long run.
Tashin al-Shiekhly, a spokesman for the Iraqi security
forces, said at a September 24 news conference that forcing Blackwater to freeze
its operations would create a security vacuum in Baghdad that may have to be
filled by redeploying U.S. forces from other parts of Iraq. Those redeployments
could make less secure areas even more vulnerable, an apparent acknowledgement
that the presence of Blackwater needs to be tolerated for the benefit of Iraq's
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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