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Context of 'January 28, 2009: Iraq Expels Blackwater'

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January 28, 2009: Iraq Expels Blackwater

The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Umm Tahsin, US Department of State, Noel Clay, Iraqi Ministry of the Interior

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide announces that it is changing its name to Xe. In addition, other business units within the group are to change their names. Blackwater Airships, which offers surveillance services for intelligence gathering, becomes Guardian Flight Systems. Blackwater Target Systems, the unit that develops and builds targets, is now known as GSD Manufacturing. The best-known part of the business—Blackwater Lodge and Training Center—will now be called US Training Center. Spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell says the company spent over a year searching for a new name before choosing Xe, which is pronounced “zee.” According to Tyrrell, the idea behind the name change is “to define the company as what it is today and not what it used to be,” because, “We’ve taken the company to a place where it is no longer accurately described as Blackwater.” She adds that the new name has no meaning. “It was just a choice of a name,” she says. “We thought of it internally.” Xe is also the chemical symbol for the element xenon. In addition, company executives also take on new positions. For example, Gary Jackson, longtime president of Blackwater Lodge and Training, now becomes president of Xe. The name change follows a series of problems the company has had in Iraq and Afghanistan (see, for example January 28, 2009). National security expert R. J. Hillhouse comments that the company is “obviously trying to distance itself from their image as reckless cowboys that’s etched into the world’s mind from [an incident where company employees shot several bystanders in Iraq].” With a new name, “there are a lot of people who probably won’t connect the dots,” she says. “In a year or two, people won’t remember that’s Blackwater.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Anne Tyrrell, Blackwater USA, Gary Jackson, Raelynn J. Hillhouse

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide.Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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