Monday, September 17, 2007


i was listening to the news this morning and they were discussing this incident with blackwater. while the headlines are about how the iraqi interior ministry is revoking the contractor's license to operate in iraq, the details are a little more complicated.

blackwater personnel have long been accused of wanton killing of iraqi civilians. this latest incident is the third one in recent weeks. apparently, the iraqis are tired of it and that's why the interior ministry announced the revocation.

the problem is that the company doesn't have a license to operate in iraq. they used to have one, but it expired a little while ago and they never bothered to get it renewed. so technically there's no license to revoke. blackwater was already operating illegally in iraq when these recent incidents occurred.

on the other hand, it's not clear what the iraq government can do if blackwater is deemed to be operating illegally in iraq. before the current or interim iraqi government was elected, when iraq was under direct rule by the u.s. under the auspices of paul bremer's CPA, bremer issued CPA order number 17. order 17 immunized private security companies from prosecution. order 17 was issued by fiat during the direct occupation period in iraq. but it is still technically in force though it arguably violates international law.

so to sum up: iraq revoked blackwater's license to operate in iraq, which they didn't have. whether or not the license was revoked, blackwater is no longer authorized to use force in iraq, but it is also immune from prosecution because of a law that is itself illegal.

how this resolves could be really interesting to watch. i've long been fascinated by instances where the interests of the u.s. and the iraqi government it supports come into conflict--it often gives a stark reminder that iraqi sovereignty is little more than a rhetorical device.

but it could also be less interesting. there is a way out. blackwater's contract is with the state department, not the defense department. to avoid an embarrassing spat with the iraqi government, the state department could revoke its contract with blackwater. that would essentially do what the iraqi government wants, get the company out of iraq, without having to remind everyone that the iraqi government is nothing but a deck of cards.

of course there is a cost to the u.s. for such a face-saving gesture. blackwater was hired to pick up the shortfalls of the overextended u.s. military, who would have to pick up the security detail for the state department if blackwater leaves. and this comes just as president bush announced a drawdown of troops to the pre-surge levels.

see also spencer ackerman, steve benen, and larry johnson (and probably many others whose posts appeared as i worked on this post)