Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BlackWater and Iraq's Mercenary Adventurers

Agua Negra - Black Water - in Spanish is the term for foul, contaminated water and sewage. In much the same way the mercenary force BlackWater USA has fouled the American colonial occupation of Iraq.

Armed to the teeth, including armored vehicles and attack helicopters, they have been placed above any laws by the United States government. The laws of Iraq and the United States do not apply to them. They are even beyond the reach of the international laws of war. They know this and have become very comfortable with the brutality that comes with impunity. (Legal note: The following are personal opinions based upon the research and reporting of others. If you don't like them, sue those other folk, not me.)

Many Opportunities for Plunder
BlackWater USA is one of many military contractors (AKA - Mercenaries) fielding private armies for profit inside Iraq. No one knows the precise number of mercs (contractors) in Iraq; estimates exceed 200,000 making the private forces larger than the official American military commitment. While many of these people do menial tasks, more on them later, there is a significant number of armed fighters whose loyalty is bought by the highest bidder. Jeremy Scahill reports that up to 40% of all the money being poured into the Iraq War is going to these private contractors.

Selected Examples
There are dozens of private military contractor companies operating inside Iraq. BlackWater does not have the largest private army in Iraq, that honor goes to the British firm Aegis Defence Services. Aegis was formed just before the start of the Iraq War. It's founder is Tim Spicer who was involved with mercenaries who broke a weapons embargo to ship arms into the "blood diamonds" civil war in Sierra Leone. His mercenaries were hired by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1997 to suppress a rebellion. A coup overthrew the government and drove out the mercs. A film of mercs in Iraq shooting up cars set to music is attributed to Aegis personnel. See also Iraq's Mercenary Prince.

BlackWater USA is the most famous of the Iraq mercenary armies. They have their own celebrity endorsement line of weapons, clothing, and accessories. They even have an air force. BlackWater is run by Republican insider Erik Prince. They have brought veterans of rightwing South American death squads into Iraq who have been accused of bringing with them their knowledge of torture techniques.

Triple Canopy has the contract for defense of the Green Zone. They reportedly fired employees who reported their supervisor had engaged in "sport shooting" of Iraqi civilians. Didn't fire the shooter.

Immunity from Responsibility
One of the last acts of L. Paul Bremer as viceroy of the Coalition Provisional Authority was to write a law making private contractors immune from Iraqi law. A court ruling makes them immune from US fraud laws. In January, Congress passed a law putting these contractors under the Uniform Code of Military Justice but the Pentagon, so far, has refused to enforce that law.

Their Tasks
Private contractors provide security for State Department staff (a job formerly done by Marines). They do convoy security (formerly an Army task). They train Iraqis police officers (although the film in the previous post suggests these Iraqis are being trained to hate Americans). They provide intelligence, meaning they do interrogations (jobs rightly reserved in the past for military intelligence). Private contractors also provide laundry and kitchen services (formerly known as KP duty when soldiers cleaned their own dishes).

Rules of Engagement
BlackWater claims to have "rules of engagement" for their personnel. This generally friendly article describes their rules for road travel such as the situation which caused the recent killings on an Iraqi street.
1) Shout and use hand gestures. (They were taught to say "cough" though "halt" in Arabic is "kif." - source)
2) Fire three warning shots into the car's grill. (If the driver takes shooting at his car as a signal to get the hell out of there...)
3) Shoot to kill.

If a car ahead of a BlackWater vehicle is stopped, say to allow an old woman to cross the street, the rules say to ram the car and push it out of the way.

A Sampling of Incidents (all alleged)
There a so many incidents and certainly many more that have not become public. But, nothing you would not expect from outlaws whose only interest in the war is profit.
1) The now famous attack.
2) Fraud and murder. See also.
3) Shooting at Marines.
4) Bribery and theft.
5) Killing an Iraqi officials security guard while in the Green Zone.
6) Killing guards for the Iraq State television service.
7) Prison break.
8) Bribery and fraud.
9) Smuggling.
10) Smuggling weapons.
11) Torture.
12) Recreational shooting of civilians.

Nell at A Lovely Promise lists several BlackWater crimes.

Not all contractors in Iraq are mercenaries. Some are slaves. Slaves may be a little strong. Indentured servants is a more accurate phrase. Such projects as building the massive American embassy or doing the cooking and cleaning for American troops falls to unskilled labor. You don't hire an ex-Green Beret at $100,000 a year to sling hash. A lot of this unskilled labor is done by people imported from other nations like Nepal and the Philippines. The funny things is, people are reluctant to get shot at for a few bucks a day. Rather than pay combat wages to laundresses, contractors lure people with promises of high wages, confiscate their travel documents upon arriving in Iraq, and force them to work cheaply. Some non-fighters are getting paid well. Here is a story of contractors importing an American prostitute for Green Zone entertainment. See also this report.

On the Home Front
The Iraq War has turned BlackWater USA from a small security firm into a major business. The are expanding, building bases in Illinois and California. They got a notorious no-bid contract to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They brought the same sensitivity to that job as the have to the Iraq War. Some have noticed the danger of having a well armed, private, Republican army building bases in the United States. What have they trained? What if they turn on us? They are reaching strongly into politics. Mitt Romney has a BlackWater executive as a key adviser on his presidential campaign. Eight years ago, oil companies were the most politically powerful business in the country. Today, it is the mercenary businesses.

It Is All About the Money
In the end, for mercenaries, it is all about the money. And, the money has been great for them. Aegis had record profits last year and will probably do even better this year. Billions and billions of dollars have been funneled to them because of this war. From their point of view, the Iraq War must never end and it is certain they are working to keep the war going. And the next war, the one with Iran, will prove to be even more profitable.


PoliShifter said...

A most excellent post Knighterrant!

I had never heard of Aegis or Triple Canopy.

This kind of crap needs to keep coming out.

There will be no end of the occupation until the flow of tax payer dollars stops.

The only thing these merc corps care about is making money. Ending the war would be losing proftis.

Thus they will do what they can to stay in business even if that means selling weapons to insurgents who then use them to kill American Soldiers.

The America People need to wake up and realize that privatization of our military is one of the worst things going on right now.

Make no mistake, profits have always been made in war but now it's become mandated.

Now, instead of doing what's best for the soldier, providing them the best service and food, now it's about making the most money.

There's been talk about even privatizing vehicle repair in Iraq.

Can you imagine a company making money off fixing broken humvees? What would the incentive be for fixing the humvees and making them reliable? None. Not when you can do shotty work, use substandard material, and in a few weeks that humvee will be right back in the shop making money.

There's no competition in cost plus no-bid contracts.

Cons(ervatives) talk about how privatization works best because it allows competition.

Where the fuck is the competition in Iraq? There is none. If you are well connected you get massive contracts with no accountability. If your product is substandard and a better, cheaper product is available, the army is barred from buying it.

This merc system is broken.

The great Iraq Experiment has failed.

Nell said...

Thanks very much for the link.

One quibble: There are close to 180,000 private contractor staff in Iraq, but it's definitely not the case that they're all armed "security guards" (aka mercenaries, aka private military).

Lots of them are workers building the monstrous U.S. embassy, delivering supplies and fuel, doing laundry, etc. Those are not all Sri Lankan slaves, either; people from my hometown are there now doing some of that stuff.

The thing that makes it possible for people to keep citing implausibly huge numbers of mercenaries is the complete absence of any documented, firm count of them. The Pentagon estimates 20,000; the International Contractors Association estimates 50,000. There are about 180 different companies that have security contracts.

Blackwater has about 1000 staff in Iraq, Triple Canopy and DynCorp another 1600 between them. They have the primo State-CIA contract (which mysteriously seems to include the highest-level military, like Gen. Petraeus).

If you assume that each of the other private military firms have 200-500 operatives, the private armies together could amount to about 65,000. They're contracted to the Pentagon, to firms doing "reconstruction" (such as it is), and to foreign companies doing some level of business in Iraq.

iraqprofessional said...

HOw can this be reality when you are so far off the mark. "200,000 mercs" maybe 25,000, the 200,000 figure includes the 10's of thousands that are hired for construction, logistics and feeding the troops etc. As for the Rules of Engagement, only Balckwater have them, the rest have Rules for the Use of Force and should be graduated and only used when defending life and property. Most private security contractors are responsible and act professionally, gone are the days we ram vehicles off the road and drive at high speeds. You really should get your butt out here and stop listening to "chinese whispers".
Blackwater and Aegis are known for being a bunch of cowboys and are not liked by the rest of the PSC community but, the US Government are the ones at fault here as they not only back these 2 companies but continue to award them huge contracts in effect, reward them for their draconian methods. You should not be having a pop at the law abiding professionals operating in a "war zone" environment but rather JCCI/A and congress, for allowing messed up killers to operate unchecked.

KnightErrant said...

iraqprofessional, you deserve more than a pithy response. My reply to you is in this posting.

I.M. SMALL said...


A long long time ago
One Erik Prince
Called himself Christian--though
Christ too would wince.

Security within Iraq
Is critical--and colored black:
Protecting U.S. VIPs
Gives private firms a wholesale lease,
Impunity from murder, O,
And what could be absurder, O,
Than that the CEO in charge
Call himself Christian--living large!

A long long time ago
One Erik Prince
Called himself Christian--though
Christ too would wince.

Morality according to
This Christian can be murky too,
A stagnant, stultified backwater
Known infamously as "Blackwater,"
But there are other sources, O,
Marshalled of private forces, O,
Dishing it the Christian way--
Who thought that murder could be gay!

A long long time ago
One Erik Prince
Called himself Christian--though
Christ too would wince.

Drive not too close: that caravan
Will fire on woman, child and man
Sans provocation--unprovoked
"Shooting to kill" so Christ has joked
The Gospel message choking, O,
For Jesus went for broking, O,
As doctrine is interpreted
By princes who can´t raise the dead.

A long long time ago
One Erik Prince
Called himself Christian--though
Christ too would wince.

Can´t raise the dead but surely knows
To lay them down--do you suppose
Despite its thumping really it´s
A brand of Bible hypocrites
As fearlessly will murder, O,
An antichrist their herder, O,
While the Good Shepherd shakes his head
And merely weeps and weeps instead.