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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)

Blackwater is not required to report its movements to the military. "There is no oversight or coordination of Blackwater by the U.S. military," said Jack Holly, a retired Marine colonel who oversees several private security firms as director of logistics for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Blackwater has said that it uses its own internal tracking system that is visible to both the military and the State Department.

Holly said Blackwater angers the Iraqis: "Their aggressive attitude is not what you would say is trying to mitigate disagreements between two societies." Earlier this year, he said, Iraqi employees on the national rail system were so intimidated that they refused to meet State Department officials escorted by Blackwater guards.

Holly said the State Department was partly to blame for what he described as Blackwater's "heavy-handed, almost arrogant" tactics. "It's obviously condoned by State and it's what State expects, because they have contract oversight and if they didn't like it they would change it," he said.

State Department officials said Blackwater is overseen by the agency's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. After several interview requests earlier this year on how the agency regulates Blackwater and other private security contractors, a spokesman e-mailed responses to written questions.

"State Department personnel, including contracting officers, routinely meet with private security contractors both on the ground in Iraq and in Washington D.C., and coordinate with other U.S. federal agencies and the Iraqi government with regard to compliance issues," the department said.

After the incident this May 24, in which Blackwater guards shot and killed an Iraqi driver outside the Interior Ministry, the Blackwater team was surrounded by Interior Ministry commandos with AK-47 assault rifles. The Blackwater guards refused to provide their names or details of the incident. A U.S. military convoy happened on the scene and an officer tried to mediate.

Eventually, a State Department official arrived, according to a security company representative familiar with the incident. The Blackwater team was allowed to return to the Green Zone.

Later, both Blackwater and the State Department initially denied that the shooting occurred. The company and agency officials then confirmed that the incident had taken place but defended the guards, saying they had followed the rules on the use of force.

The State Department said it planned a thorough investigation. Four months later, no results have been announced.

Protection 'at All Costs'

"Blackwater has no respect for the Iraqi people," the Interior Ministry official said. "They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals. We have seen what they do in the streets. When they're not shooting, they're throwing water bottles at people and calling them names. If you are terrifying a child or an elderly woman, or you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn't that terrorism?"

Ann Exline Starr, a former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser, said she traveled in Iraq first with a military escort, then with guards from Blackwater and another State Department-contracted security firm, DynCorp International, as security in Iraq deteriorated. The shift was startling, she said. The soldiers drank tea and played cards with the Iraqis. The security contractors, on the other hand, moved more aggressively, their only focus protecting Exline Starr.

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