Privatizing destruction

 

 

Jake Schoneker

Last Sunday, American forces opened fire on an innocent group of Iraqi civilians at Nisoor Square, in western Baghdad. At least 11 were killed in the shooting, which was, in the words of Shirwan al-Waili, the national security minister of Iraq, “unjustifiable … harsh and horrible.” The attack has caused an outcry for justice among Iraqis who are deeply offended at what seems to be a senseless and merciless shooting.

Around 75,000 innocent Iraqi lives have already been lost in Iraq – so what makes this event so important? It’s partly because of the brutal nature of the shooting, but partly, too, because these killers were not even part of the U.S. Army. The troops were part of a growing contingent of private soldiers and contractors in Iraq, a faction that is changing the direction of the entire Iraqi conflict.

Blackwater USA is a privately owned American security company that hires and trains mercenaries – and sends them off to do battle in military hotspots around the world. In 2003 it landed its first large-scale contract with the American military and soon sent soldiers into Iraq to boost security forces in the region. Blackwater troops are mainly responsible for guarding the American Embassy and protecting Paul Bremer (U.S. chief envoy to Iraq) and other political leaders. Blackwater is just one of many security companies that are thriving because of the war. At the start of American occupation in Iraq, there were about 10,000 private soldiers in Iraq – already far more than were used in the first Gulf War. Three years later, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there were 48,000 private soldiers deployed in Iraq, reflecting a growing need for private forces to fill the gaps of an undermanned U.S. Military.

This shift toward private personnel is no accident. In the first year of Iraq occupation, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld eliminated 55,000 jobs in the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs – jobs that were outsourced to private companies. Why? It’s part of a plan to create a war machine of private power in the region – an invasion of mercenaries, contractors and dollar bills (on loan). The aim of this private army is to create dependence in Iraq on the corporate infrastructure and to take advantage of lucrative, chaotic conditions to score big for American companies. As pressure mounts to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, the role of private forces will become more integral to keeping the future peace in Iraq.

The worry among Iraqi leaders, and the source of much of the public outcry in response to the Blackwater shooting, is that private soldiers aren’t held to the same standards of law or to the public scrutiny of their counterparts in the U.S. Armed Forces. A proposal signed by Bremer in the first year of occupation in Iraq essentially grants complete diplomatic immunity to any security company employed by the United States. What this means is a private soldier can treat any situation as a free-fire zone without fear of retribution by Iraqi courts. That’s why, according to The New York Times, “no Western contractors of any kind are known to have been convicted of any crimes in Iraq.”

This isn’t the first time Blackwater employees have drawn controversy, either. In six other separate shootings, Blackwater has been responsible for the deaths of at least 10 innocent civilians in Iraq. The current investigation into the Nisoor Square shooting hopes to bring those responsible for these incidents (declared “terrorist actions against civilians” by Shirwan al-Waili) to court and to justice.

Private security companies like Blackwater represent the emerging face of warfare in Iraq – one where mercenary soldiers exert force on a fearful populous, make upward of $1,000 a day for their efforts and do it all without being held accountable for their war crimes. It is clear that the real winner in the destruction and invasion of Iraq is not the American military, nor the Iraqi people, but rather the private companies sent to take advantage of a chaotic landscape. Destruction has proven itself to be a lucrative industry for American corporate interests.

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Jake Schoneker is a senior political science and humanities major from Lansdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]