(mercs in new orleans 2005, katrina…)
‘ Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Private Military Firms and a post 2011 Iraq
By MOTHAX October 24th, 2011
As everyone has seen over the past week, President Obama plans to honor the agreement that will have all US military personnel out of Iraq by the end of the year, but what comes after that? Although I don’t usually use “Truth-Out” as a source, their article (though heavily nuanced) has a pretty good encapsulation of what we might see:
Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama announced today that all US troops in Iraq would be withdrawn by the end of the year. The final drawdown will leave behind thousands of private security contractors and State Department employees….
Between 4,500 and 5,000 private security contractors will remain in Iraq to protect two US consulates and the embassy in Baghdad, according to Denis McDonough, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
The State Department will have 16,000 civilian employees on the ground in Iraq and is preparing for its largest overseas operation since the end of World War II, according to a Washington Post report.
The Washington Post article talks more about the role that the State Department will be playing in a post-Military Iraq, comparing it charitably with the Marshall Plan:
The State Department is racing against an end-of-year deadline to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military, throwing together buildings and marshaling contractors in its biggest overseas operation since the effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Attention in Washington and Baghdad has centered on the number of U.S. troops that could remain in Iraq. But those forces will be dwarfed by an estimated 16,000 civilians under the American ambassador — the size of an Army division.
And what is the scope of what these folks will be doing? Well, pretty diverse:
The list of responsibilities the State Department will pick up from the military is daunting. It will have to provide security for the roughly 1,750 traditional embassy personnel — diplomats, aid workers, Treasury employees and so on — in a country rocked by daily bombings and assassinations.
To do so, the department is contracting about 5,000 security personnel. They will protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad plus two consulates, a pair of support sites at Iraqi airports and three police-training facilities.
The department will also operate its own air service — the 46-aircraft Embassy Air Iraq — and its own hospitals, functions the U.S. military have been performing. About 4,600 contractors, mostly non-American, will provide cooking, cleaning, medical care and other services. Rounding out the civilian presence will be about 4,600 people scattered over 10 or 11 sites, where Iraqis will be instructed on how to use U.S. military equipment their country has purchased.
So, are we just taking out military folks, and just replacing them with ex-military folks that have gone on to work for the Private Military Firms? Yeah, that’s about it. Remember that the stumbling block for the Obama plan to keep between 3-5,000 folks in Iraq was the immunity issue with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Baldly stated, this meant that US Troops who committed an illegal act in the country was immune from being charged by the host country, and would rather be charged by the United States, back here.
However, contractors come with their own set of problems. For instance, how might a civilian contractor employed by the State Department be eligible for diplomatic immunity? A great article at CNN lays out some of the intrinsic problems:
For years, thousands of civilian contractors have worked in Iraq operating in a variety of military and support functions. But they have always lacked the same criminal immunity from Iraqi laws that the U.S. military enjoys under existing agreements between the two countries. And for the most part, they operated under the purview of the Defense Department.
While contractors would be subject to the Iraqi criminal justice system as they always have, ambiguities will still exist as to how they would also be held accountable under U.S. law if a situation similar to the 2007 incident involving contractors working for Blackwater (now operating as Xe Services) were to occur.
The issues surrounding their presence in Iraq are likely to become only more complex when U.S. troops do pull out and leave the oversight of the entire contracting force to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
“What the State Department does is diplomacy, and you’re going to have the State Department managing contractors that are going to be flying helicopters, driving MRAP’s, medevac-ing wounded personnel,” Richard Fontaine, and expert on contracting issues with the Center for a New American Security, told CNN.
It will be interesting to see how all that shakes out. Essentially it is accepted that War in Iraq is over, but if you simply switch out contractors for the military, it begs the question if anything has changed. Despite the obvious up-front cost of contractors, in the long run, the costs are mitigated by the fact that a cook or trigger-puller for a private military firm doesn’t have the extensive train-up costs and retirement benefits that their military brethren have. Of course, when you pay a guy $200,000 a year (like the DynCorps guys on Karzai’s protective detail were getting) you don’t as much have to look forward to your retirement as you do when you are only making 50k.
Update… Blackwater goes through another name change…
Once called Blackwater, firm changes name
AFP December 13, 2011
The US security firm formerly known as Blackwater, which was barred from Iraq over a deadly 2007 shooting, has renamed itself a second time.
USTC Holdings, the investor consortium that acquired ex-Blackwater firm Xe Services in December 2010, announced ACADEMI as the new name and brand for Xe Services.
The rebranding came as President Barack Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday, marking America’s exit from a war launched to oust Saddam Hussein.
“We have had a year of extraordinary changes that have resulted in a new, better company,” ACADEMI president and chief executive Ted Wright said in a statement.
“I know that everyone at ACADEMI shares in this commitment to promote the highest standards of ethical conduct, compliance and integrity in all of our activities.
“We are already the best operationally. We are going to become the best at governance,” Wright said, adding “we still have much work to do.”
ACADEMI said it had trained more than 50,000 personnel and had conducted more than 60,000 protective security missions around the globe during the last seven years.
“Not a single protectee has been lost or critically injured, a record of excellence that no other company in the industry can match,” said the company, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington.
Obama held talks with Maliki at the White House as the last US troops in Iraq prepared to leave this month, ending a nearly nine-year presence following the US invasion.
Several hundred civilian contractors will remain in Iraq to help train Iraqi forces under the authority of the US embassy in Baghdad.
Part of the troubled legacy of the war was a deadly 2007 incident involving the US security firm then known as Blackwater.
Blackwater renamed itself Xe after Iraq announced in January 2009 that it would not renew its operating licence due to a September 16, 2007 incident in which guards protecting a US diplomatic convoy opened fire in Baghdad’s busy Nisur Square, killing at least 14 civilians.
After that announcement, the US State Department did not renew its contract with Blackwater for security services in Iraq.
In you they have taken bribes to shed blood; you have taken interest and profits, and you have injured your neighbors for gain by oppression, and you have forgotten Me,” declares the Lord GOD.