Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blackwater is Number One...

... in reported shooting incidents in Iraq:

The American security contractor Blackwater USA has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms providing similar services to the State Department, according to Bush administration officials and industry officials.

Blackwater is now the focus of investigations in both Baghdad and Washington over a Sept. 16 shooting in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed. Beyond that episode, the company has been involved in cases in which its personnel fired weapons while guarding State Department officials in Iraq at least twice as often per convoy mission as security guards working for other American security firms, the officials said.

The disclosure came as the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had sent a team of officials to Iraq to get answers to questions about the use of American security contractors there.

Blackwater, based in North Carolina, has gained a reputation among Iraqis and even among American military personnel serving in Iraq as a company that flaunts an aggressive, quick-draw image that leads its security personnel to take excessively violent actions to protect the people they are paid to guard. After the latest shooting, the Iraqi government demanded that the company be banned from operating in the country.

“You can find any number of people, particularly in uniform, who will tell you that they do see Blackwater as a company that promotes a much more aggressive response to things than other main contractors do,” a senior American official said.

Today, Blackwater operates in the most violent parts of Iraq and guards the most prominent American diplomats, which some American government officials say explains why it is involved in more shootings than its competitors. The shootings included in the reports include all cases in which weapons are fired, including those meant as warning shots. Others add that Blackwater’s aggressive posture in guarding diplomats reflects the wishes of its client, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Still, other government officials say that Blackwater’s corporate culture seems to encourage excessive behavior. “Is it the operating environment or something specific about Blackwater?” asked one government official. “My best guess is that it is both.”

Or maybe Blackwater was selected to operate in the most violent parts of Iraq because the company has that reputation for shooting first and asking questions later.

Regardless, the behavior and attitudes of Blackwater contractors is only increasing the hatred Iraqis feel for Americans:
Many American officials now share the view that Blackwater’s behavior is increasingly stoking resentment among Iraqis and is proving counterproductive to American efforts to gain support for its military efforts in Iraq.

“They’re repeat offenders, and yet they continue to prosper in Iraq,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who has been broadly critical of the role of contractors in Iraq. “It’s really affecting attitudes toward the United States when you have these cowboy guys out there. These guys represent the U.S. to them and there are no rules of the game for them.”

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