US State Department May Phase Out Blackwater

The US State Department is rumored to be planning to phase out the use of Blackwater contractors in Iraq, in response to the demands of the Iraqi government who has accused the contractors of “deliberately killing” 17 unarmed civilians in Baghdad last month.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told the US government that it has six months to wind down Blackwater’s operations in Iraq.

This will create enormous logistical challenges for the State Department, which relies heavily on the use of Blackwater’s 1,000 private contractors in Iraq to guard its convoys in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

The Iraqi government is also demanding $136 million in compensation from Blackwater – $8 million per victim – and insisting that the contractors involved in the September 16 shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities to face criminal charges.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the embattled North Carolina-based company is already scaling down its operations, possibly in anticipation of losing its $1 billion contract with the State Department.

Firstly, Blackwater is reportedly preparing to launch a major restructuring and downsizing process, according to sources quoted by the Associated Press.

Secondly, the Wall Street Journal reported that Blackwater has abruptly withdrawn its membership from the Washington-based International Peace Operations Association, a private security industry association.

The reasons behind Blackwater’s de-listing from IPOA remain unclear, especially since its founder, Doug Brooks, has been one of Blackwater’s most vocal defenders since last month’s shootings.

“We have decided to take a hiatus from the association,” said a Blackwater spokeswoman. “We, like many other organizations engaged in this type of work, are pursuing other aspects and methods of industry outreach and governance.”

Earlier this month IPOA formally endorsed the MEJA Expansion and Enforcement Act, a bill spearheaded by Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) to make private contractors in Iraq accountable under the US criminal code.

The legislation passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 389-30, although the Bush administration remains “strongly opposed” to it.

The White House and the State Department have repeatedly rejected the idea of private contractors being held accountable under either US or Iraqi law.

In order to quell the outrage over the September 16 shootings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major review of the department’s use of private contractors in Iraq and increased supervision of Blackwater operations in Iraq, including the mounting of security cameras in convoys guarded by Blackwater.

Yet that does not go far enough for the Iraqi government, which will accept nothing less than full accountability for contractors working in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has proposed charging the contractors involved in the September 16 shootings under Iraq’s criminal code of 1969.

The Maliki government is also in the process of reversing the 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority decree that extends criminal immunity to private contractors in Iraq.

The Associated Press reported that the Maliki government told the US Embassy in Baghdad, “We will draft and pass laws that would lift the immunity on these security companies to stop their reckless behavior.”

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