Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blackwater gets the boot from Iraq

As discussed in this space back in December, Iraq has decided to bar the Blackwater Worldwide security firm from continuing to operate in the country, officials said Thursday. Blackwater, the largest security firm operating in Iraq under contract to the U.S. State Department, was repeatedly accused of overly aggressive tactics in protecting U.S. diplomats, including the shooting of 14 unarmed civilians on the streets of Baghdad in 2007. "The operating permission for the firm Blackwater will not be renewed. Its chance is zero," said Alaa al-Taie of the press department at Iraq's Interior Ministry, according to the Reuters international news service. "It is not acceptable to Iraqis and there are legal points against it, like killing Iraqis with their weapons." Blackwater, which employs hundreds of heavily armed guards and used a fleet of armored vehicles and helicopters to protect diplomats, has boasted that no Americans have been killed under its protection, according to Reuters. But Iraqis, and the Iraq government, have been unhappy with the company since at least 2007. At the time, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the shootings "a massacre," even though Blackwater claimed its guards had been fired upon. But in a criminal case that has evolved in U.S. courts since the shootings, one Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter while five others await trial next year on similar charges. U.S. contractors were immune from liability in Iraq until new laws took effect Jan. 1. A U.S. embassy official said the State Department was working on making new security arrangements, Reuters said. "We don't have specifics about dates. We are working with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision," the official said. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell told Reuters that the firm had followed the proper procedures to apply for a license and had not been told by the Iraqi or U.S. governments of the outcome. "Blackwater has always said that we will continue the important work of protecting U.S. government officials in Iraq for as long as our customer asks us to do so, and in accordance with Iraqi law. That has not changed," she said. The United States has used private contractors to provide security for diplomats in Iraq despite the presence of more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf nation.

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