Will Iraq Kick Out Blackwater?
Will Iraq Kick Out Blackwater?
TIME has obtained an incident report prepared by the U.S. government describing a fire fight Sunday in Baghdad in which at least eight Iraqis were reported killed and 13 wounded. The deadly incident occurred when a convoy of U.S. personnel protected by Blackwater security contractors came under small arms fire. Blackwater returned fire, resulting in the Iraqi deaths. The loss of life has provoked anger in Baghdad, where the Interior Ministry has suspended Blackwater's license to operate around the country. Several Iraqi government officials have indicated their opposition to Blackwater's continued presence in their country. If the suspension is made permanent, it could significantly impair security for key U.S. personnel in the country, a U.S. official in Baghdad told TIME. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose State Department depends on Blackwater to protect its Iraq-based staffers, called Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to say that the U.S. has launched its own investigation into the matter.
Some eyewitnesses said the fighting began after an explosion detonated near the U.S. convoy, but the incident report does not reflect that.Condoleezza Rice's 'regret' over Iraq shooting
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, has called the Iraqi prime minister to express her regret over a shootout involving an American security firm in which at least eight people were killed and 13 wounded. The Iraqi government has withdrawn the licence from Blackwater, one of the largest foreign security firms working in the country, and says it intends to prosecute the guards after they "opened fire randomly at citizens". The US government incident report says armed insurgents attacked a diplomatic convoy in a Baghdad town square and the Blackwater guards returned fire. Ms Rice telephoned Nuri al-Maliki to tell the prime minister that US officials were investigating the incident and wanted "to gain a full understanding of what happened", according to Tom Casey, the US State Department spokesman. "She reiterated that the United States does everything it can to avoid such loss of life in contrast to the enemies of the Iraqi people who deliberately target civilians," he said.
They released a statement saying: "Blackwater regrets any loss of life but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life." Moqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shia cleric, reacted to the incident by demanding that all foreign security firms be removed from Iraq.Daily Press Briefing
QUESTION:Do you have anything more to say about the incident involving Blackwater in Baghdad?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not much more than I said this morning, Matt.
QUESTION: You don't.
MR. MCCORMACK: As I indicated to you, Secretary Rice intends to call Prime Minister Maliki about it and regret - express regret for the loss of innocent life. At this point, we are still investigating what happened. Our Diplomatic Security Bureau is taking the lead on that investigation. They are working with Multinational Forces - Iraq, who are going to support them in that investigation. I won't try to draw any conclusions here. As we know, Iraq is -- can be a very difficult place for our diplomats to operate in. And certainly people need to realize the environment in which our people operate. That said, anytime there's loss of innocent life that is deeply regretted by us and everybody involved in the State Department mission in Baghdad and in Iraq. And we take every possible measure we can in order to avoid the loss of innocent life. But as I said, this is a matter that is being investigated. We want to determine all of the facts as best we can. We have committed to sharing those facts and the results of our investigation with the Iraqi Government. So with all of that in mind, I'm not going to leap to any particular conclusions at this point.
QUESTION: Have you been informed that the company has, in fact, lost its license, if it had one in the first place, to operate?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have not, Matt. I've seen the comments from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We have not received that notification.
QUESTION: Are you aware if they did have a license?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't. I don't. I don't know what the requirements are for operating in Iraq like that. You might check with the company in question.
QUESTION: Can you speak to the larger question of contractors providing security in Iraq, how many there are, to the extent you can tell us?
MR. MCCORMACK: I asked that question about the overall numbers. Apparently, it's not something that we give out. And I think you can understand why these people can start doing calculations backwards and potentially gain some insight into how those contractors operate to protect our personnel. And obviously, we don't want to do anything that might endanger those personnel further.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how much money is involved in the contracts?
MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. I didn't ask that. I will see if that's something we can offer up.
QUESTION: And lastly, can you talk about what would happen if a private contractor's license is lost, whether it's Blackwater's or somebody else's, what will that do --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a hypothetical question. I'm sure, however, that in every instance we will be able to ensure that our people are protected and able to do their jobs.
QUESTION: Sean, are you able to provide any details about the incident itself -- how many cars were in the convoy, where exactly it was? Can you confirm any of those details?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any details at this point that I can offer in public. It was a chief of mission convoy that was going outside the international zone. And as you know recently, there have been some car bomb explosions outside the international zone. So again, I urge people to keep that in mind.
We are going to make this as open and transparent an investigation and inasmuch as we can, share the results, so that people know what we know.
QUESTION: Who is the Chief of Mission (inaudible) because as I understand it, Ambassador Crocker is in --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
The Charge I believe is Ambassador Butenis.
QUESTION: And okay -- and that --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not -- when I say Chief of Mission convoy, it's a term of art that I should explain. It doesn't mean the chief of mission was in the convoy. That just means that it is a convoy that was a State Department convoy, essentially, and it falls under the authority of the Chief of Mission -- under the authority of the Chief of Mission, as opposed to the (inaudible) from the military.
QUESTION: Doest that mean that a -- that it has flags on it or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. It's a -- all it is is a bureaucratic indicator. It's an indicator that this was a State Department convoy as opposed to a military convoy.
And the Secretary didn't call Maliki yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not yet.
The schedules haven't lined up, but I expect that that will happen in the not-too-distant future. Don't have a time yet for you. Yeah.
QUESTION: When incidents such as these happen, do you suspend the services briefly of the company you're investigating or does it just continue as normal, until you've completed the investigation?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a call for the security officials on the ground in terms of their operational tempo and what they do in response to a particular incident. If they feel as though they need to take some action, I'm sure that they will. But again, that's a call that the folks on the ground are going to make. We have full confidence that they're going to do the right thing, not only to ensure that our people are protected, but that any operations that we conduct fully comply with our rules and regulations.
QUESTION: Sean, (inaudible) individual --
QUESTION: Have other incident -- sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: Have other incidents of this nature been reported about Blackwater in recent months?
MR. MCCORMACK: I -- you know, I couldn't tell you, Sue. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know if the individual contractors involved in this have been suspended or what's happened to them since then?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. I don't have any insight to that. Again, I don't -- I caution everybody -- let's not leap to conclusions. There was a loss of life here. There was a fire fight. We believe some innocent life was lost. Nobody wants to see that. But I can't tell you who was responsible for that. So again, let's not jump to any conclusions here. It seems as though there was an incident and there was innocent loss of life. But I'm not going to, at this point, attribute any particular -- responsibility to any particular group. I think it's important for all involved that we allow the investigation to take place, establish the facts and then we'll be able to come to some conclusions. But our people, wherever they may be, want to make sure that we operate in as safe a way as we possibly can and also in a way that protects innocent life.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the contractors acted inappropriately?
MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, you have to listen to what I'm saying here. There's an investigation that's underway here. And what I'm urging people to do is wait for an investigation to take place. So let's not leap to conclusions here. Okay.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Maliki was a quoted as saying that a crime was committed. Is Secretary Rice going to dissuade him of that? I mean, you're saying let's wait.
MR. MCCORMACK: What we have said is exactly what you're hearing from me. There's an investigation underway and that all along the way, each step along the way, we're going to share what we know with the Iraqis. We're going to share the progress of the investigation. We're going to share with them what we have found.
So again -- look, it's a terribly emotional issue. I understand that. I think -- you know, any person would if there's innocent life lost. Everybody understands that. But in terms of understanding what happens, let's establish the facts, let's do it in a sober-minded way, and let's use the results of those investigations to attribute responsibility. If any actions need to be taken as a result of that, then of course, we're going to take them. But let's establish the facts first.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure.
I think if you go back and then look at the transcript, at one point, you said "An innocent loss of life," as -- and you've been saying before that, "A loss of innocent life." I --
MR. MCCORMACK: Loss of innocent life, yeah.
Then I want to -- who is in charge of these people? The question was asked, you know, do the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. They weren't --
QUESTION: If they were suspended, if there's an investigation going on, like a police officer would in a -- you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you -- I can't tell you exactly --
QUESTION: Because the letters here are really murky in terms of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well --
QUESTION: -- who these people report to. Does the State Department have the authority, if there's an investigation going on --
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you what the -- I can't tell you exactly what the contract specifies, Matt, but our -- these people work as part of our security operation there. They report to the Regional Security Officer there. And look, if they -- if our Regional Security Officer doesn't want somebody going out or a certain group going out, they're not going to go out. If the Ambassador or the people at the Embassy don't want somebody to go out or a group to go out, they're not going to go out. I'm not saying that's the case right here, but these folks work in support of our people at the Embassy and we appreciate what they do. They're taking real risk to allow us to be able to do our job. But in terms of the specific contractual arrangements, in terms of discipline, you know, I don't know, Matt. I really don't. Yeah.
QUESTION: Many Iraqis think that these security contractors operate outside the law and that they're not held accountable when incidents such as -- such as these happen. Under what law would they be held accountable? Would it be U.S. law because they're operating --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: I mean, what are the rules of engagement? Sorry, that's three questions. What are the rules of engagement here and under what law would they be held accountable? Iraqi --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a good question. You know, I could -- I could probably give you an answer that is a common sense, man-in-the-street answer, but that wouldn't necessarily have been run by our lawyers first, so I'd want to actually consult with the lawyers before I give you a definitive answer.
QUESTION: Can you check that?
QUESTION: Yeah, can you find that out?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
MR. MCCORMACK:I'll be happy to, yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: If, actually, the group has been -- the authorization to work for this group has been cancelled, do -- are they authorized to stay in the International Zone? Is it --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not --
QUESTION: -- done as a U.S. territory or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we haven't been -- again, we haven't -- well, it's not a U.S. territory except for the Embassy. But we, to my knowledge, have not been informed of that. So that's getting one step down the road beyond where I know that we are. Yeah, anything else on this?
QUESTION: Yeah, can we stay on Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wonder if you can explain how does that work if every private contractor needs a license from the Iraqi Government to work there. Since when? Since the city transferred power to the government?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to -- you will have to ask the -- maybe the Iraqi Embassy or your folks in Baghdad will have to ask the Iraqi Government about what it is under their laws and their regulations that they require for security contractors or other private businesses to operate in Iran.
QUESTION: But why only it was CPA that was there? Did they require that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Why it was the CPA that was there? The program or is there -- at that time, did they need a license from Iraq, any kind of -- like, when did they --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at that point, CPA was the governing authority, if you will, in Iraq, then there was a transitional government. You'll have to ask the Iraqis about their licensing requirements. I don't know off the top of my head. You might ask the company as well what's required of them to operate in Iraq. QUESTION: And just following up on the question of under which law are they going to respond to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Isn't it true that one of the last orders signed by Bremer was to prohibit -- to have them not answering to any kind of process or due process in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, like I said, I could give you probably what would -- what would be a common sense answer from the man-in-the-street perspective, but again, I have to check with the lawyers because the details matter. So we can post an answer for you. We can ask our lawyers exactly what the rules and regulations, what the law dictates. Yeah.
QUESTION: Given that the convoy was fired on, do you anticipate any change of security procedures for diplomats leaving the International Zone?
MR. MCCORMACK: They're always -- they're always taking a look at that. They're always taking a look at, you know, what protective measures might need to be taken, do they need to vary routes, do they need to cut down on the number of visits. I can't tell you. Our security folks are going to, in consultation with the Embassy leadership, are going to make those decisions. They're going to do what they think is right in protecting our people. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq?
QUESTION: I had one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: One clarification.
Do you know if there's any sort of diplomatic immunity for these guys? Do they carry a black passport, do you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit, I don't know. I suspect not. I don't know. Yeah, Sylvie.