Our mercenaries in Iraq
By Jeremy Scahill
January 25, 2007
The president relies on thousands of private soldiers with little oversight, a disturbing example of the military-industrial complex.
JEREMY SCAHILL is a fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of the forthcoming “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”
AS PRESIDENT BUSH took the podium to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday, there were five American families receiving news that has become all too common: Their loved ones had been killed in Iraq. But in this case, the slain were neither “civilians,” as the news reports proclaimed, nor were they U.S. soldiers. They were highly trained mercenaries deployed to Iraq by a secretive private military company based in North Carolina — Blackwater USA.
The company made headlines in early 2004 when four of its troops were ambushed and burned in the Sunni hotbed of Fallouja — two charred, lifeless bodies left to dangle for hours from a bridge. That incident marked a turning point in the war, sparked multiple U.S. sieges of Fallouja and helped fuel the Iraqi resistance that haunts the occupation to this day.
Now, Blackwater is back in the news, providing a reminder of just how privatized the war has become. On Tuesday, one of the company’s helicopters was brought down in one of Baghdad’s most violent areas. The men who were killed were providing diplomatic security under Blackwater’s $300-million State Department contract, which dates to 2003 and the company’s initial no-bid contract to guard administrator L. Paul Bremer III in Iraq. Current U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is also protected by Blackwater, said he had gone to the morgue to view the men’s bodies, asserting the circumstances of their deaths were unclear because of “the fog of war.”
Bush made no mention of the downing of the helicopter during his State of the Union speech. But he did address the very issue that has made the war’s privatization a linchpin of his Iraq policy — the need for more troops. The president called on Congress to authorize an increase of about 92,000 active-duty troops over the next five years. He then slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.
“Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them,” Bush declared. This is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input, with its revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its Frankenstein monster.
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