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Where Military Rules Don't Apply

Blackwater USA, whose employees guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has received $678 million in State Department contracts since 2003.
Blackwater USA, whose employees guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has received $678 million in State Department contracts since 2003. (January 2005 Photo By Scott Peterson -- Getty Images)

Over the past year, the military has issued a series of "fragos," or fragmentary orders, designed to impose greater accountability on security contractors operating under Defense Department contracts. Blackwater was not covered because it reported to the State Department.

The new rules included procedures for the registration of weapons and streamlined the reporting of shooting incidents. The U.S. military's director of security for the Green Zone, where approximately three dozen private security firms are based, has conducted sweeps that netted hundreds of unauthorized weapons.

The military also required companies to obtain operating licenses through the Interior Ministry to operate legally in Iraq. The licenses added another layer of accountability: Licensed companies were given colorful numbered decals to attach to the sides of their armored vehicles, clearly identifying them as belonging to a security firm.

The licensing process has been fraught with problems. Companies have complained about corruption and delays and said they feared handing over sensitive personnel and weapons data to an Iraqi ministry infiltrated by sectarian militias.

But the U.S. military and many registered companies argued that it was the only way to legitimize the industry. "We try to comply with all rules and decrees they produce," said Sam Jamison, the convoy manager for ArmorGroup International, a British security firm that protects nearly one-third of all nonmilitary convoys in Iraq. "If you come to someone else's country, and you don't abide by their laws and regulations, it's just the height of arrogance. We may not always like it but we will comply with it. We can't ask the Iraqi people to respect the rule of law if we don't do it ourselves."

None of the new orders applied to Blackwater, which has received $678 million in State Department contracts since 2003 and operates under the department's authority.

"I'm not gonna go chasing after non-DoD organizations, going, 'Uh, you didn't submit an incident report for this,' " said Maj. Kent Lightner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who monitors shooting incidents involving private security contractors under Defense Department contracts.

Peter, of the private security firms' advocacy group, said the rules that govern companies often depend on who issued their contract. "There's a different regulatory environment depending on who you work for," he explained.

'Heavy-Handed' Tactics

On March 31, 2004, four Blackwater employees were ambushed while escorting kitchen equipment through Fallujah. A mob shot and burned them, then hung two corpses from a bridge over the Euphrates River. To date, at least 25 Blackwater employees have been killed in Iraq.

The Fallujah attack, a turning point in the war, also led to fundamental changes in the private security industry. The military, which had been unaware that Blackwater was operating in Fallujah, created the Reconstruction Operations Center to track thousands of armed civilians on the battlefield.

Military and private security officials described the operations center as a success, with one omission: Blackwater, which played a role in its creation, does not participate.

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