Water Week

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Multinational mercenaries: Iraq private-security contractors still immune from Iraqi law

Posted by waterweek on 5 October 2007

Their helicopters buzzed through the Baghdad sky, their patrols bristled with the latest weaponry and their armoured vehicles carried the latest high-tech gadgets, wrote Paul Tait in The Canberra Times (22/9/2007, p.B2).

Unpopular in Iraq: It wasn’t the United States military but another lethal fighting force in Iraq – private security contractors. Iraq has vowed to review all local and foreign security contractors, described by critics as mercenaries who acted with impunity, after a shooting incident involving US firm Blackwater in which 10 people were killed and 13 wounded. It said it would revoke the licence of Blackwater and prosecute those involved. Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri alMaliki, said the incident had generated “a lot of hatred in the government and the people against Blackwater” and he called on the US to hire a new company to protect its people.

Multinational mercenaries: However, the government might find it difficult to prosecute the case, and even harder to revoke Blackwater’s licence, because it probably doesn’t have a current one. The workings of security contractors in Iraq were so unclear that the State Department, whom Blackwater protected in Iraq, was still unable to say more than 48 hours after the incident whether the company had a legitimate licence. Estimates of the number of security contractors employed by mainly US and European firms ranged between 25,000 and 48,000 in what can appear like multinational militias. Peruvians manned checkpoints around Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Fijians in blue helmets guarded the UN compound. Australian, English and New Zealand accents abounded, many of them former special forces soldiers who learned their martial skills while being paid a fraction of their current wages.

New laws on horizon: Some security companies tried to keep low profiles, but Iraqis have long complained about the heavy-handed approach of others, whose convoys of armoured vehicles muscled their way through traffic and shot at cars that come too close. Private security industry representatives in Britain said the episode highlighted ambiguities in the status of security contractors and a need to update laws governing them. Security firms still operated under memorandum 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, written in 2004, which made foreign security contractors immune from Iraqi law.

The Canberra Times, 22/9/2007, p. B2

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