Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Blackwater Nexus

Despite repeated denials that they did "nothing wrong" and their swift reinstatement Friday by the State Department, Blackwater continues to draw ire and fire from Iraqi officials. Led and emboldened by vocal public outcry, the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry have reported that
the murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation.
And Iraqi officials appear insistent on pursuing prosecution of the Blackwater perpetrators.
The criminals will be referred to the Iraqi court system.
This is not the rhetoric of people who seem willing to compromise on the issue. In fact, so insistent on this path are Iraqi government officials, they have sought to document and report several other incidents, which, it is claimed, Blackwater has wantonly opened fire on civilians.
The American Blackwater company has made for the seventh time the same mistake against the Iraqis and in different places in Baghdad.
Now, when something happens seven times, it is a bit of a stretch to call such behaviour a "mistake." Perhaps what was contained in the Arabic report was lost in translation. Does this look like a "mistake" to you?

[N.B. there is some confusion at youtube over who the culprits are in this video. One says that it is Blackwater contractors, another says Aegis. But the larger issue, of course, is the general behaviour of American contractors.]

The argument over the truth of the Nisour Square incident is not the issue that I find to be the interesting aspect of this, however. (Iraqi officials now say they have video tape of the incident that proves Blackwater opened fire.) What is interesting is just how adamant the Iraqi government is in its pursuit of what they are calling "terrorist action." Those are some pretty strong words from government officials who are supposed to be our puppets.

Except they are not "our puppets." At least, not in any traditional socio-political sense of that word. The Iraqi "government" is really a collection of militarized fiefdoms, even within various ministries. But one things is clear from the Blackwater shooting, various ministries have all come together against the operations of Blackwater and, more generally, private security contractors. Even Maliki is taking up the cause, though there is a strong possiblity that his position will be mitigated when he meets with Rice at the UN. She will try to publicly placate him with promises that the US will "examine the rules of engagement," which obviously means nothing.

But the question is whether Maliki will compromise on this or not. Given the stance of many Iraqi government factions, he is in a rather difficult position. If he bends to US pressure on this, he becomes even more despised and weakened in Iraq, although considering the level of animosity in Iraq toward him already, he may not care. If he holds the official Iraqi line, he may find himself subject to some sort of ouster. Either way, he could find himself tossed out, if not by the hands of the Americans, then surely by the hands of a coalition of the willing-to-punt-Maliki. A vote of no confidence in parliament could remove him efficiently. Considering that there is no obviously legal way for the Bush administration to get rid of the prime minister, Maliki may choose to stand firm and with the other Iraqi officials. He knows that the US cannot possibly remove him without the entire "freedom and democracy" enterprise of the White House looking like a complete and utter farce. Right now, it is only mostly a farce.

This episode could rightly be viewed by Maliki as one that would actually strengthen his position in Iraq -- to the chagrin of the White House -- should he stand firm and insist on Blackwater's removal. That means Maliki working for the interests of Iraqis and not the Americans. Should he choose this path, he might rally support and bring more than a few factions together in a very real and positive way. Positive, that is, from the Iraqi perspective. If the White House insists on ignoring the demands of the Iraqi government -- it is easily imagined that they would, since they have already -- this will only muster yet more resentment of the American occupation. I'm not entirely sure if more resentment to the occupation is possible there, but if it is, retaining Blackwater is certainly a way to stir it up. Blackwater should expect to become increasingly targeted. Another Falluja incident seems waiting in the wings.

As with most White House policy, sedulously insisting on a continued Blackwater presence in Iraq is senseless. Can the Bush administration by that wedded to the profiteering of this one company? There really is no other reason to insist that Blackwater remain. Should the White House concede this point, it might actually improve their image in Iraq, at least marginally. If the Bush administration are morbidly affixed to Blackwater's exceedingly profitable enterprise, this will surely only inflame the insurgency further and any of Petreaus' questionable security gains could easily evaporate in a flurry of attacks brought on by a policy predicated on crony profiteering. Which, of course, is exactly what is going on at larger scales and maintaining Blackwater's contract is simply one facet of the American enterprise in Iraq writ large.

Probably to most, it seems likely that Maliki will cave to White House intransigence on this point. I wish he wouldn't, but I don't see him as a leader let alone a leader with any kind of vision. Using a strong stance against Blackwater could be a first, albeit small step in reconciling the many factions he has to deal with, all of which want Blackwater gone. Somewhat strengthened by this, Maliki could begin the other and serious efforts that are needed. This is a long road and not one that can be imposed by any American timetable. It is also a road that the White House really doesn't want the Iraqi government tripping down any time soon. For an actual unified Iraqi government -- a government of the Iraqi people -- would, first and foremost, insist on the departure of US forces. And that is not in concordance with White House plans for Iraq.

Unfortunately, Maliki does not appear to be the one Iraq needs and given the decrepit and factionalized state of the country right now, it is hard to imagine that there is anyone on earth who could pull the country together. Which is probably just how the White House likes it. Continued chaos, continued occupation. Mission continuing to be accomplished.

Therefore, my prediction is as follows: Maliki caves, Blackwater stays and yet more hell breaks loose.


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