Juan Cole reports that the main reason Prime Minister al-Maliki is holding up a Status of Forces Agreement with the US has been the refusal of the US to rein in its private mercenaries, especially the wildly overpaid and out-of-control folks at Blackwater. In September, 2007 Blackwater personnel gunned down 17 innocent Iraqis in Nisour Square, an incident that triggered outrage among the Iraqis and demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice. But they have not been as they have immunity under current agreements, something that now appalls the Iraqis of all factions. To add insult to injury, less than a month after this incident, the US State Department granted Blackwater a $92 million contract to guard US personnel in Iraq. Why are we hiring mercenaries at many times the salaries of US military to carry out functions that until very recently were always carried out by US military personnel?
Unfortunately most in the US are unaware of how outrageous Blackwater is, or the deep links of its founder and CEO, Eric Prince, to the current administration. So, in October 2007 a drunken Blackwater employee killed a bodyguard of the Iraqi Vice President, doing so by firing from a balcony in the Iraqi Ministry of Justice. Even more striking is that Blackwater personnel view themselves as superior to US military personnel. In 2007 there was an incident in the Green Zone where a Blackwater employee crashed an SUV into an army vehicle. The army seized the SUV, but the Blackwater employee disarmed the US army soldiers and forced them to lie on the ground until he recovered the Blackwater vehicle. All of this is simply outrageous and out of control (and Barack Obama has yet to speak against it). I fully sympathize with the demand by Ayatollah Ali Sistani of PM al-Mailiki that under these circumstances Iraq should not grant the US a Status of Forces Agreement that allows Blackwater personnel immunity from prosecution for this sort of conduct.