State Dept. Contractors In Iraq Are Reined In

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

A new memorandum of understanding on private security contractors in Iraq, agreed to in Baghdad by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, requires "full coordination" between military and diplomatic officials on the ground but leaves State in control of its own contractors, U.S. officials said.

The agreement, which has not been published, places a military official for the first time in the tactical operations center of the embassy's security office, according to Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. The military will receive "prior notification" of all diplomatic convoy movements and will give commanders in the field the option of stopping them, he said.

The commanders "are in charge of the battle space," Negroponte said in a recent interview. "If they say don't go there, we won't go there." Although diplomatic movement information was shared with the military in the past, "it was harder to get and it wasn't as well distributed as it is now. We were sending over plans of these movements to the [military] headquarters . . . but it wasn't getting to the different elements" in the field, he said.

Military officers had long complained about their lack of control over security guards on State Department contracts, saying that their aggressive behavior interfered with military operations and undermined U.S. efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds. Those complaints came to a head when contractors employed by Blackwater Worldwide killed 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16 in Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates initially called for the contractors, who escort U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials when they travel outside Baghdad's Green Zone or other fortified installations, to be brought under Defense Department control. While resisting that step, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged faulty supervision of the guards from North Carolina-based Blackwater and other companies and ordered increased oversight by the State Department's own Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Rice and Gates instead decided to negotiate new rules coordinating military and diplomatic security operations in Iraq, resulting in the new understanding.

The Defense Department "won't hire them, they won't fire them," Negroponte said of contractors under the new agreement. "This is under the purview of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the embassy. But it's full coordination."

He declined to comment on whether State would extend Blackwater's contract when it expires next spring. The department has not yet received a full report from an FBI investigation into the Sept. 16 shootings, he said, "so we'll just have to wait."

Even as they consider evidence gathered by the FBI in the case, federal prosecutors will have to determine whether any U.S. law covers the contractors. Although Congress extended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to cover Defense-contracted security workers, no similar legislation directly covers those employed by the State Department.

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