U.S. Repeatedly Rebuffed Iraq on Blackwater Complaints
Sunday, September 23, 2007; Page A18
BAGHDAD, Sept. 22 -- Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until 11 Iraqis were shot dead last Sunday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Before that episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.
"There were no concrete results," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government, said in an interview Saturday.
The lack of a U.S. response underscores the powerlessness of Iraqi officials to control the tens of thousands of security contractors who operate under U.S.-drafted Iraqi regulations that shield them from Iraqi laws. It also raises questions about how seriously the United States will seek to regulate Blackwater, now the subject of at least three investigations by Iraqi and U.S. authorities. Blackwater, which operates under State Department authority, protects nearly all senior U.S. politicians and civilian officials here.
U.S. Embassy officials did not respond to several requests to describe what action, if any, was taken in response to the six incidents involving Blackwater. Mirembe Nantongo, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the embassy always looks into anything "outside of normal operation procedures."
In the United States, Blackwater is facing a possible federal investigation over allegations that it illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq that later might have been sold on the black market. The accusation first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer. The company on Saturday denied the allegations, calling them "baseless."
"The company has no knowledge of any employee improperly exporting weapons," Anne Tyrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said in a statement.
In its probe, Iraq's Interior Ministry concluded that Blackwater fired without provocation into cars about noon last Sunday in Nisoor Square in the Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad, killing 11 and injuring 12. Blackwater has said that extremists ambushed guards protecting a State Department convoy and that they had to defend themselves.
Kamal indicated that Iraqi investigators had a videotape apparently showing Blackwater guards firing at civilians, but he declined to provide further details. On Friday, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief Interior Ministry spokesman, said the ministry would refer its findings to a court for possible criminal prosecution.
"It confirms there was no justification. Blackwater started shooting," Kamal said about the probe's conclusions. "This is a crime, which under Iraqi law, and even under American law, should be punished."
U.S. investigators have not publicly released any findings. U.S. Embassy officials have declined to comment on the probe and cautioned not to draw premature conclusions.
Matthew Degn, who served as a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry's intelligence directorate until his tour in Iraq ended last month, said Kamal and other ministry officials became increasingly frustrated by their inability to persuade U.S. officials to regulate Blackwater as allegations against the company mounted.