If any incident supports the theory that there was no alignment between the actions of the Private Military Companies in Iraq and the political and operational intent of the American military and government, it has to be the February shooting of 3 Iraqi Media Network Iraqi guards by a Blackwater USA sniper.
The Washington Post’s Steve Fainaru provides a detailed breakdown of what occurred on that day, months before the controversial killings this past September.
The subsequent investigation supports the contention that the State Department suffered from a twisted form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the diplomats’ gratitude for being protected outweighed their ability to provide proper oversight of their security details or to question the actions of their protectors. The result, ironically, was that the very individuals who should be most concerned with winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis — our State Department diplomatic corp — were the ones turning a blind eye to actions that have alienated the Iraqi population and further endangered American service men and women.
The Iraqi Media Network, a media outlet, had three guards killed. This is the definition of a negative incident that had the potential to create negative feeling and put more US military personnel at risk. The negative feeling grew not only among those Iraqis who were somehow involved in or connected with the shooing (family members of the slain, for example); you also had a situation where the Iraqi media itself was under attack, media that has significant influence to shape the views and opinions of the Iraqi population at large.
That the Blackwater security personnel were fired upon (and even these facts remain disputed) is irrelevant in the absence of an assertion that they were fired upon by the guards for the Iraqi Media Network. Incoming rounds in a counter-insurgency environment justify the returning of fire to those who are engaging – not the killing of any armed personnel within view.
The irony is that the Blackwater personnel should have known that the guards across the street were security guards, with a legitimate reason for being there. Much has been made of the thoroughness of the pre-mission briefings; that briefing should have included the locations of all guarded facilities. Additionally on arriving at the location, the guards (who, yes, could be seen as a threat if not identified as guards) should have been identified. If they were not known to be guards, then they should have been reported to the local military as insurgents who should be engaged. That they were not reported to the military suggests that Blackwater’s people correctly identified them at the time as security guards. Which then begs the question: Why would Blackwater fire upon them?
The problem here is not simply that Blackwater USA’s personnel killed three guards. Even more troubling is the fact that the State Department, in not addressing such incidents, was tacitly endorsing and therefore facilitating a culture among its security details that placed no premium on life.
It is incidents like this that raise the horrible question – if the State Department was willing to tolerate any Blackwater action to ensure that no State Department official was hurt, and those incidents clearly caused hostility that could lead to additional attacks on the military, how many soldiers’ lives were considered worth sacrificing in exchange for that so-called perfect record that Blackwater so often trumpets?