By James Denselow The Huffington Post
Seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, on 16 September 2007. Some of the bodies were so badly shot up and burned that they had to be identified by their dental records. Guards from the private security firm Blackwater were accused of shooting randomly at the civilians as their convoy passed by, while the company insisted they were responding to an ambush.
Last week a US judge dismissed the charges against the guards on the grounds of procedural errors. The Iraqi government, perhaps also looking to score nationalist points as an election looms, was outraged. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh accused the men of committing a “serious crime” and Prime Minister Maliki warned that “whether in the United States or in Iraq, we will not give our rights up”.
As inertia continues to characterise the Middle East peace process and outreach to Iran and Syria, the Blackwater case casts more doubt on the ability of the Obama administration to live up to the rhetoric the president outlined in Cairo when he spoke of mutual “principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings”. There is a shameful irony that the “new Iraq” is now criticising America on the basis of human rights and justice, with the Iraqi human rights minister, Wejdan Mikhail, saying she was “astonished” by the US decision to dismiss the case.
The role and remit of private security contractors in America’s wars remain highly contested. The animosity felt towards these contractors in Iraq, in particular, is hard to exaggerate. The Iraqi war fired the starting gun for the mass privatisation of war – the burgeoning of private security companies staffed by ex-soldiers from armies across the world parodied in the John Cusack film War, Inc.
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