Blackwater critics to Pentagon: Don't say we didn't warn you
Defense and legal experts issued two years worth of warnings to the Pentagon about its heavy reliance on Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq -- and watched as the Defense Department continued to expand its use of the contractors, according to a new report.
In a series of memos, letters and in-person meetings with high-level officials in the US and Iraq, critics had warned of a "lack of control" over the private guards, writes the the Washington Post's
Steve Fainaru. But despite a growing number of incidents in which Blackwater employees allegedly shot and killed Iraqi civilians, the US government was slow to act.
"We set this thing up for failure from the beginning," a retired Marine colonel who advised Iraqi military forces in 2004 told the Post. "We're just sorting it out now...I still think, from a pure counterinsurgency standpoint, armed contractors are an inherently bad idea, because you cannot control the quality, you cannot control the action on the ground, but you're held responsible for everything they do."
Pentagon and State Department officials did not take "substantive action to regulate private security companies until Blackwater guards opened fire Sept. 16 at a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and provoking protests over the role of security contractors in Iraq," according to the Post.
More than a year prior, however, the paper says that US intelligence officials on Iraq's National Intelligence Committee had been urged to reign in Blackwater.
"Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, who heads the [Iraqi] Interior Ministry's intelligence directorate, called on U.S. authorities to crack down on private security companies," reports the Post. "U.S. military officials told Kamal that Blackwater was under State Department authority and outside their control, according to notes of the meeting. The matter was dropped."
After a 2006 Pentagon order authorizing contractors to use deadly force took effect, the American Bar Association and the US Chamber of Commerce both criticized the move.
"But neither the military nor the State Department set guidelines for regulating tens of thousands of hired guns on the battlefield," writes Fainaru. "Oversight was left to overburdened government contracting officers or the companies themselves, which conducted their own investigations when a shooting incident occurred."
A senior State Department official told the paper that he was not aware of any significant warnings.
Michael Arrighi, a private security manager in Iraq since 2004, said that Pentagon attention to the free-for-all conduct of contractors had been woefully late in arriving.
"The reality is the military has not had any oversight on this issue until recently," Arrighi said. "We could hire the Rockettes and give them guns, and they wouldn't know. It was a total wasteland."
The contractors have earned few friends in Iraq, added Arrighi.
"They're universally despised in the Green Zone," he said. "'Universally despised' is probably a kind way to put it."
Read the full article in the Washington Post.