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Iraq expands US security firm probe
by Al Jazeera (reposted)
Sunday Sep 23rd, 2007 8:03 AM
Sunday, September 23, 2007 : Blackwater is implicated in six incidents resulting in at least 10 Iraqi deaths.
A retired Iraqi teacher who was wounded
in the Blackwater shooting last week [AFP]

The Iraqi government is expanding its investigation into the security company Blackwater USA to look at six other incidents.

An interior ministry spokesman said violent episodes over the past seven months have left at least 10 Iraqis dead.

Blackwater is being investigated for the fatal shooting of Iraqi civilians last week.

The company is also being investigated over allegations that its staff have been illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq.

Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said: "These acts, this is what made the ministry of interior stop trusting them."

He said the findings would be referred to court for possible criminal investigation.

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§US security firms warned of Iraq risks months ago
by via UK Independent Sunday Sep 23rd, 2007 8:11 AM
Sunday, September 23, 2007 : Private security chiefs warned that growing tensions between Iraqis and American armed bodyguards could descend into a disastrous "shoot-out" four months before an American firm was suspended this week following a fierce gun battle that left 11 locals dead.

A confidential memo sent to more than 200 private security companies (PSCs) in Iraq last May warned of the "serious risk" of armed exchanges between foreign guards and local security forces.

Lawrence Peter, director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq (PSCAI), responded to the kidnapping of four British bodyguards by calling for a new standard operating procedure to offer private guards better protection.

The official concern that tense encounters could easily escalate into lethal exchanges emerged amid a row over the conduct of the American PSC Blackwater, after 11 Iraqis were killed when its guards opened fire in a Baghdad square last Sunday.

Blackwater insisted its staff acted in self-defence, although this claim was disputed by Iraqi eyewitnesses. The company was ordered to suspend operations while a joint US-Iraqi inquiry was held, but it has now resumed in a limited way in the Iraqi capital.

In his memo, Mr Peter asked PSCs for help in developing new tactics after the kidnapping of four British guards. He said: "I am concerned that there is now a serious risk of a PSC detail opening fire on a police detail, should the situation not feel right. PSCs must also be mindful of the rule of law and appropriate response to legitimate authority."

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§180,000 Private Contractors Flood Iraq
by Associated Press Sunday Sep 23rd, 2007 8:17 AM
WASHINGTON -- The United States has assembled an imposing industrial army in Iraq larger than its uniformed fighting force and responsible for a such a broad swath of responsibilities the military might not be able to operate without its private-sector partners.

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 19, 2007; 6:26 PM

More than 180,000 Americans, Iraqis, and nationals from other countries work under a slew of federal contracts to provide security, gather intelligence, build roads, forge a financial system, and transport needed supplies in a country the size of California.

That figure contrasts with the 163,100 U.S. military personnel, according to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the organization responsible for military operations in the Middle East. The Pentagon puts the military figure at 169,000. There are another 12,400 coalition forces in Iraq.

But it has its dangers. Employees for Blackwater USA were involved in a weekend shooting that left 11 Iraqis dead.

The heavy reliance on contractors in a war zone is partly the result of a post-Cold War shrinking of the armed forces and the Bush administration's preference for contracting out government functions to the corporate world.

It's also due to the compressed nature of the war in Iraq. Combat operations are ongoing at the same time as the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure and assorted economic development efforts, pushing the number of contractors to high levels.

While having contractors on and around the battlefield is not new, the situation in Iraq raises questions about whether U.S. troops have become so dependent on contract help they could not function properly in their absence.

"If the contractors turn tail and run, we've still got to be able to fight," said Steve Schooner, co-director of the government procurement law program at George Washington University and a former military lawyer.

The presence of thousands of private sector security guards adds another component to the debate. Employees for Blackwater and other companies are engaging the enemy in combat, a sharp departure from previous conflicts.

"It's pretty clear that line has been crossed in Iraq," Schooner said. "And it's been crossed because we don't have enough horses left, and we have all kinds of problems in terms of coordination."

As the military leans on the private sector, there's a push to hold contract employees to the same legal standards as military personnel. That effort has generated renewed attention in the wake of a weekend shooting involving Blackwater guards that left 11 Iraqis dead.

A measure proposed by Rep. David Price, D-N.C., would require all government contractors to be covered by federal criminal codes, a shortcoming revealed by the conflict in Iraq. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, D-Ill., is promoting similar legislation in the Senate.

"One suspects that contractors are being used to mask the true extent of our involvement in Iraq," Price said in an interview Wednesday. "How else are you going to interpret it when the number of contractors exceeds the number of troops?"

Groups representing federal contractors rejected the idea the war is being outsourced.

"In Iraq we're doing something that's never been done before _ there's three concurrent missions going on," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council in Washington.

"Normally this would be a sequential process. You achieve a degree of security and then you start reconstruction and then you build the infrastructure. But it's all being done at the same time, which is one of the reasons the number (of contractors) is so high."

According to Central Command, there are 137,000 contractors working in Iraq under Defense Department contracts and almost half of those are Iraqis. More than 22,000 are U.S. citizens and the remainder hail from other countries. Close to 7,300 are security workers.

Under separate contracts, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development employ thousands more workers, including security guards.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday the department does not release the number of contract employees due to concerns their safety could be compromised.

However, a July report from the Congressional Research Service said the State Department has hired over 2,600 private guards to protect U.S. diplomatic personnel and to guard the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as well as other key sites inside the city's "Green Zone."

The Agency for International Development has more than a dozen contracts and grants for services from electrical power generation to sanitation to water supply. There are 3,200 contractors helping to manage these projects, which have employed more than 50,000 Iraqis, according to USAID's public affairs office.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday that military contractors fill necessary roles but ones that would distract combat troops from their primary mission.

"You don't necessarily need to take a rifleman and turn him into a cook if you can contract for a cook," he said.

Angela Styles, director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2003, said the challenge is determining where to draw the line.

If it is strictly a combat operation, the military can sustain itself, she said. In Iraq, where several missions are jumbled together and call for skills the armed forces don't have, the answer is different.

"Could the military function without contractors on a sheer military mission? I think so," Styles said. "But could they in a reconstruction mission? No."
by reposted
Sunday Sep 23rd, 2007 8:21 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi government will file criminal charges against employees of U.S. security firm Blackwater who are blamed for a gun battle in Baghdad in which civilians were killed, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said Sunday.

It is unclear how Iraqi courts will attempt to bring the contractors to trial. A July report from the Congressional Research Service said the Iraqi government has no authority over private security firms contracted by the U.S. government.

The Iraqi government claims that as many as 20 civilians were killed by the private contractors, who were guarding a U.S. diplomatic convoy.

Iraqi officials, who claim the shootings were unprovoked, dispute the U.S. claim that the guards were responding to an attack and said on Saturday they had a videotape that showed the Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation.