Iraq Denies Blackwater License

[ Posted Thursday, January 29th, 2009 – 16:57 UTC ]

News from Iraq has seemingly slowed to a trickle, due to most of America wanting to turn the page and move on. But an item which appeared today in the Washington Post shows that the Iraqi government is not wasting any time in asserting the prerogatives of true sovereignty which they gained on the first of this year. Even in the midst of an Iraqi election (or perhaps because of the impending vote), Iraq announced that the security company Blackwater Worldwide will not be getting a renewal of their license to operate in Iraq this year.

Meaning they're going to have to get out of Dodge. Not right away, and with a loophole or two, but the end is in sight for the company's ability to provide security in the country of Iraq. That "get out of Dodge" was not random, either, since up until this point Blackwater has operated largely in a Wild West atmosphere where they were not legally under any law -- U.S., military, or Iraqi. The abuses that sprang from this situation finally became so egregious in an incident where Blackwater personnel killed 17 unarmed civilians that the persons responsible are now being charged in U.S. federal court. But I expect their defense is going to heavily rely on "this court has no jurisdiction," which may indeed be the truth, and may win their freedom. Because from the inception of American forces in Iraq up until December 31, 2008 there simply was no law to restrain them.

That era, Iraq just announced, is over. And Blackwater is no longer welcome in their country. From the article:

The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq.

. . .

Private security companies working for the U.S. government in Iraq have been required to obtain licenses from the Iraqi Interior Ministry since 2004, but some have operated without licenses, and until this year, there was little the Iraqi government could do to enforce the rule.

The ministry revoked Blackwater's license in September 2007 and threatened to expel the company's employees, but U.S. officials ignored the order and renewed the company's contract the following April.

Iraqi officials said Wednesday they decided not to issue the company a new license largely because of the Nisoor Square shooting.

But then the loopholes appear, which shows that Iraq's government is not being vindictive by their actions:

Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Blackwater must leave the country as soon as a joint Iraqi-U.S. committee finishes drawing up guidelines for private contractors under the security agreement. It is unclear how long that will take. Blackwater employees and other U.S. contractors had been immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

"When the work of this committee ends," Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said, private security companies "will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don't have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately."

Meaning, for now, it is symbolic. But such symbolism shouldn't be discounted. The company itself is being barred in the very near future, and their employees (with good records) are not being punished -- just told to switch employers. The article ends by quoting two Iraqi citizens directly affected by Blackwater:

Sami Hawa Hamud al-Sabahin, who was among those wounded in the Nisoor Square shooting, said he was overjoyed to hear the news about Blackwater.

"It makes me happy and lets me feel that the government didn't forget us," he said.

Umm Tahsin , the widow of Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein, one of the men killed in the shooting, also applauded the government's decision. But she lamented that neither the Iraqi nor the U.S. government has compensated her family for their loss.

"Those people are a group of criminals," she said of Blackwater. "What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family."

Meaning it's a powerful political issue for the Iraqi government -- you might say it's "change we can believe in" for Iraqi voters. Which makes it more than just symbolism. Blackwater is not leaving Iraq today, or tomorrow, but it has been put on notice that its days in Iraq are numbered.


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “Iraq Denies Blackwater License”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I just hope that the people who own and run Blackwater do not form a new company and re-hire everyone - if so the whole investingation would have been for naught.

    I think that the owner of Blackwater should be prosecuted here in the US. I always thought that if a foreign entity has immunity from porsecution it is only because they are supposed to be brought to justice by their own country.


  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Blackwater: the truth isn't "out there." It's outsourced.

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