Saturday, April 5, 2008

Blackwater rafting

It's hard to tell what message the U.S. government is trying to convey to Iraqis with the announcement Friday that the State Department would renew a $92 million contract with Blackwater, the security contractor whose personnel killed 17 civilians in a shooting incident in September. Disrespect? Disregard? Contempt? The U.S.-supported Iraqi government reacted with predictable dismay Saturday, with a top adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling the decision "bad news." Sami al-Askari said quite reasonably, it seems, that the United States should have waited until all investigations were completed. Blackwater is one of three companies contracted by the State Department to help provide security to diplomats, construction workers and government officials in Iraq. The September incident prompted changes in the way security contractors operate in Iraq. Now, a State Department official is required to ride with every private convoy and all vehicles must be equipped with video cameras. "I personally am not happy with this, especially because they have committed acts of aggression, killed Iraqis, and this has not been resolved yet positively for families of victims," al-Askari said. "The U.S. government has the right to choose what contractors its chooses, but Iraq should also have the right to allow or ban certain contractors from operating on its territory." The three security companies — Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp. — are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

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