Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 02:56:36 AM EST
The front page story for The Independent today is 'Making a killing: how private armies became a $120bn global industry' where reporters Daniel Howden and Lenord Doyle examine "the burgeoning world of private military companies, arguably the fastest-growing industry in the global economy". Mercenaries, er private security contractors, have "operations in at least 50 countries" and "the single largest spur to this boom is the conflict in Iraq."
Inching one step closer to Cyberpunk dystopia - diary rescue by Migeru
Now the mercenary trade comes with its own business jargon. Guns for hire come under the umbrella term of privatised military firms, with their own acronym PMFs. The industry itself has done everything it can to shed the "mercenary" tag and most companies avoid the term "military" in preference for "security". "The term mercenary is not accurate," says [Bob Ayers, a security expert with Chatham House in London], who argues that military personnel in defensive roles should be distinguished from soldiers of fortune.
There is nothing new about soldiers for hire, the private companies simply represent the trade in a new form. "Organised as business entities and structured along corporate lines, they mark the corporate evolution of the mercenary trade," according to Mr Singer, who was among the first to plot the worldwide explosion in the use of private military firms.
In many ways it mirrors broader trends in the world economy as countries switch from manufacturing to services and outsource functions once thought to be the preserve of the state. Iraq has become a testing ground for this burgeoning industry, creating staggering financial opportunities and equally immense ethical dilemmas.
None of the estimated 48,000 private military operatives in Iraq has been convicted of a crime and no one knows how many Iraqis have been killed by private military forces, because the US does not keep records.
Of course mercenary firms like Blackwater aren't the only ones "making a killing" in Baghdad. The New York Times reports the Pentagon is reviewing $6 billion in contracts. "Military officials said Thursday that contracts worth $6 billion to provide essential supplies to American troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan -- including food, water and shelter -- were under review by criminal investigators, double the amount the Pentagon had previously disclosed. ¶ In addition, $88 billion in contracts and programs, including those for body armor for American soldiers and matériel for Iraqi and Afghan security forces, are being audited for financial irregularities, the officials said."
And, of course, lucrative U.S. government contracts isn't the only way private security contractors like Blackwater USA are "making a killing" in Iraq. Sabrina Tavernise and James Glanz of The New York Times reports that the Iraq has concluded the Blackwater shooting was unprovoked.
Click picture to enlarge image.
In the Interior Ministry's version of that day, the events began unfolding when a bomb exploded shortly before noon near the unfinished Rahman Mosque, about a mile north of Nisour Square. Embassy officials have said the convoy was responding to the bomb, but it is still unclear whether it was carrying officials away from the bomb scene, driving toward it to pick someone up or simply providing support.
Whatever their mission, and whoever was inside, the convoy of at least four sport utility vehicles steered onto the square just after noon and took positions that blocked the flow of midday traffic in three directions. But one family's car, approaching from the south along Yarmouk Street, apparently did not stop quickly enough, and the Blackwater guards opened fire, killing the man who was driving, the ministry account says.
"The woman next to the driver had a baby in her arms," said an official who shared the report, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share it. "She started to scream. They shot her," the official said, adding that the guards then fired what appeared to be grenades or pump guns into the car as it continued to move. The car caught fire. "The car kept rolling, so they burned it," the official said.
The account said that the guards entered the square shooting, although Ali Khalaf, a traffic policeman who watched events from a flimsy white traffic booth on the edge of the square and spoke in an interview on Thursday, said a guard got out of the sport utility vehicle and fired.
Mr. Khalaf, who has also been interviewed by American investigators, spoke standing near his traffic booth on Thursday afternoon. He said that he had tried to reach the woman in the seconds after the man she was riding with was shot. But a Blackwater guard killed the woman before he could reach her, Mr. Khalaf said.
I think there can be no question now that the Bush administration values Blackwater USA more than their puppet regime in Baghdad. Reuters reports that Blackwater is back again 'guarding' US State Department convoys. "Blackwater guards were back on the streets of Baghdad on Friday after the U.S. embassy eased a three-day ban on road travel by U.S. officials outside the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone... ¶ U.S. embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the decision to allow "mission essential" trips, some guarded by Blackwater, was taken after consultation with Iraqi authorities. 'There isn't a lot of movement in general ... But it is likely Blackwater will support some of them,' she said." The article also states that "Iraq wants to tighten control over security contractors" and is reviewing the status of all private security contractors. Additionally, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior has drafted a new law, which they expect parliament to pass soon, that "gives the ministry powers to prosecute the companies and to refuse or revoke contracts."
Blackwater USA has left a trail of death behind it in Iraq. Ned Parker and Raheem Salman of the Los Angeles Times report that Blackwater is under scrutiny in Iraq. For example, seven months ago a sniper fatally "shot three security guards outside his office at the government-run Iraqi Media Network... ¶ An internal investigation by [the] department found that Blackwater USA was responsible. But seven months after the Feb. 7 shootings no one has been charged... ¶ A U.S. diplomat confirmed that Blackwater guards carried out the shooting, but said he did not know the results of the State Department security office's inquiry." The lawless exploits of Blackwater USA and other mercentaries under the employ of the U.S. State Department are undermining U.S. troop safety and the Bush administration's supposed goal of an Iraqi democracy.
Blackwater has long operated off the U.S. military's radar, answering instead to the embassy's security staff. Military officials express resentment at what they view as renegade behavior by private security contractors, including running Iraqis off the road, throwing water bottles and a quick trigger finger. "We pay for their indiscretions every day," one U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity...
The embassy's security staff will participate with Iraqis in a review of the incident. Although it is standard procedure for the security staff to investigate such cases, a U.S. diplomat suggested that the staff's close relationship with Blackwater gave the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"We are at cross purposes, saying, 'We want to rebuild your country.' On the other hand, you have this thing going on," the diplomat said. "At some point you ask, 'Why am I here?' For every step forward, there is two steps back."
Robert Baer of Time magazine calls the Bush administration's bluff in 'Why Blackwater -- and More -- Should Leave Iraq'. "Kicking Blackwater out of Iraq, as Prime Minister Maliki suggested, buys the Administration nothing... ¶ What the Administration should do is rescind Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17, the decree that puts foreign security contractors beyond the reach of Iraqi law. This would effectively close down private security companies. There is no reason the State Department cannot provide its own security, State security officers are under diplomatic immunity. If there's a questionable shooting, the Iraqi government at least will have the satisfaction of declaring the shooter persona non grata under the Vienna Convention. ¶ With violence down, and the surge apparently having an effect, now is the time to make a gesture to Iraqis. We can show we are serious about returning their sovereignty to them by pulling out private security contractors, even if it means using U.S. troops to fill the void."
After all, the surge is working. Right?
Parts of this essay appeared in a different form in my Four at Four column today at Docudharma.