Blackwater's last day in Iraq

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All you peace activists, listen up.

Today is special. You’ll want to remember this day — May 7, 2009 — as the day when the second largest occupying force, the private army formerly known as Blackwater, finally left Iraq.

From CNN:

     

Triple Canopy, a Herndon, Virginia-based company, picks up the expiring contract of the security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, which changed its name to XE a few months ago. The U.S. State Department decided not to renew XE’s contract in January.

"When the U.S. government initially asked for our help to assist with an immediate need to protect Americans in Iraq, we answered that call and performed well," XE spokeswoman Anne Tyrell said in a statement Wednesday. "But we always knew that, at some point, that work would come to a close."

The end of the contract followed the Iraqi government’s refusal to renew the firm’s operating license because of a September 2007 shooting in which Baghdad says security guards — then employed by Blackwater — killed 17 Iraqi civilians.

That slaughter, and the indictments that followed, ended an era of complete impunity for the Blackwater mercenaries.

Accounts from survivors of the Baghdad massacre are chilling, to say the least. Apart from Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill, Jennifer Daskal lays claim to some of the best reporting on Blackwater yet.

Khalaf, a 38-year-old Iraqi and survivor of the massacre, told her the scene was a "horror movie." You should read the rest.

Of course, the government didn’t really want to do anything to reign these guys in. Erik Prince, founder and former CEO of Blackwater — as well as a former Navy SEAL — hails from a fundamentalist Christian background, and he interned for numerous Republican campaigns, including George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign.

After the massacre, it was all downhill for Blackwater. The mass killing of civilians became a rallying cry for insurgents. There were talks of prosecutions. The victims’ families sued and eventually, the FBI was involved.

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Then, a report released in 2007 found that since 2005, Blackwater guards were involved in 195 "escalation of force" incidents in Iraq during which they fired their weapons, an average of 1.4 per week. In more than 80 percent of those cases Blackwater guards fired first, according to the report, in an apparent violation of the company’s mandate allowing only defensive fire to prevent "imminent and grave danger."

Finally, last December, five Blackwater guards turned themselves in to officials in Salt Lake City. Fourteen manslaughter charges were filed related to the Baghdad massacre. A sixth guard pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others.

No charges were filed against Blackwater as a company, but it was the first time that any American mercenaries were held accountable for crimes in Iraq.

Prince had tried to defend himself in an extensive interview with Charlie Rose, but the company’s media profile had turned rancid. So, in February, they changed their name to XE.

Prince announced on March 2 that he would resign as CEO of the company. He retained his post as chairman.

Most recently, Blackwater has found the rise of high-seas piracy a boon to business as it wrapped up its Iraq operations. The group has retrofitted an ex-research vessel to carry over 30 "operators" on missions to protect other ships, the company said late last year.

In a Fox News appearance, Prince claimed the company had been approached by 66 shipping firms interested in hiring them for security.

And even though they’ve lost the State Department contract for embassy security in Iraq, ‘XE’ retains other contracts to provide security for government officials in other parts of the world.

So the company formerly known as Blackwater is finally leaving Iraq, even as the U.S. military seems to be shifting it’s focus toward Afghanistan. It’s the end of an era. Don’t let it pass unnoticed.

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