Revolution #105, October 21, 2007

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Blackwater: America’s Rent-a-Stormtroopers in Iraq

October 8, 2007. A World to Win News Service. The American elite killer force known as Blackwater—a kind of private SS unit—trained their heavy weapons on a traffic roundabout in Baghdad September 16 and murdered at least 11 Iraqis. Another 24 were shot and wounded.

An article in the Washington Post (October 4) traces the events of that day through the fate of five people shot down by Blackwater gunmen. “The victims were as young as 11 and as old as 55, according to hospital records. They were middle class and poor. They included college students, day labourers and professionals vital to rebuilding Iraq. There was a mother and her daughter. The daughter lived. There was a taxi driver, only 25, who was the sole provider for his parents and seven siblings. He died.”

The mercenaries wanted to clear the square of traffic so that another convoy carrying American diplomats could pass through. “As the Blackwater armoured vehicles entered the square, a heavily guarded area near Baghdad’s affluent Mansour neighbourhood, Iraqi police officers moved to stop traffic. Mehasin Muhsin Kadhum, and her son Haitham, who were in the flow of cars the officers were trying to stop, didn’t react quickly enough. A Blackwater guard fired, striking Haitham as he sat in the driver’s seat, three witnesses said.

“‘The bullet went through the windshield and split his head open,’ recalled traffic police officer Sarhan Thiab. ‘His mother was holding him, screaming for help.’ The car, which had an automatic transmission, kept rolling. Another officer, Ali Khalaf, tried to stop the vehicle as another spray of bullets killed Kadhum.

“Thiab fled first, then Khalaf, followed by bullets that struck a traffic light pole, a billboard and their police guard post. Then the Blackwater guards escalated their firepower, engulfing the sedan in flames…

“Blackwater guards said they fired upon the sedan because it was travelling at high speed and would not stop. Khalaf and other eyewitnesses said it was moving slowly and posed no threat.

“Within moments, bullets flew in every direction, said witnesses and police officials. Scores sought cover in a nearby embankment. Others abandoned their vehicles… ‘People were fleeing, but where could they go?’”

Sudarsan Raghavan’s article carefully recounts the human details of those whose deaths he describes. Other articles describe the extent and duration of the massacre. The shooters in four armored vehicles and two helicopters overhead unleashed bullets and explosives in all directions and throughout the roundabout. They cut down workers repairing a tunnel and others planting flowers in the center island. On the other side of the square was an old man riding a motor scooter, the Iraqi policeman Thiab mentioned above told another reporter, “There was a lot of traffic and he was trying to go around it and they shot him.” (Washington Post, October 8)

Was this all a mistake, an act of panic? It seems to have been standard procedure.

Why would they panic when no one was shooting at them? “There was no evidence that the Blackwater convoy came under fire directly or indirectly,” concluded an Iraqi government inquiry. “It was not hit even by a stone.”

Later, after leaving the square on the opposite side from where they had been shooting, about 150 meters away the same men opened fire again on another mass of cars, killing another person and wounding two more.

In the wake of the Nisoor Square massacre, many similar incidents have come to light. A former Blackwater employee told the Washington Post (October 3) that his 20-man team alone averaged four or five shootings a week. In 2006, at a party, an allegedly drunk Blackwater employee killed an Iraqi vice-presidential bodyguard. He was immediately flown out of the country and “punished” only by losing his job and bonuses. No official interest in Blackwater killings has ever been shown—until the company’s efforts to cover up this latest murder spree, with U.S. government complicity, thrust it into an unwelcome public spotlight. 

Blackwater is the leader among dozens of similar companies working in Iraq. It is the main firm employed by the U.S. State Department to escort diplomats, visiting businessmen and other bigwigs. The U.S. decreed a law that keeps as many as 50,000 military “private contractors,” like the regular American occupation forces, safe from any possibility of prosecution by Iraqis, which reduces the Iraqi government’s current cries of indignation to a worthless gesture. These gun-toting mercenaries are mostly former U.S. soldiers, often recently retired from special operations and commando units that operate much like the private militia they belong to now. They are an important advantage for the U.S. government. In addition to keeping the number of regular troops down by a quarter to a third, their private employment makes it possible to use them in a more flexible way, and makes their actions “deniable” as far as U.S. government responsibility is concerned. They are men who have already proven their loyalty, at least to the dollar, and their willingness and ability to do very dirty work. Unlike regular troops, they are sworn to silence under the threat of crushing fines. They can’t be punished for anything they do, only for telling someone about it.

Along with similar outfits, Blackwater is also violently at work in the occupation of Afghanistan. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, its commandos were sent to police Black people in New Orleans, in the “homeland” of the empire that employs them.

The company is thoroughly connected with the government. Its executives are all former high government “counter-terrorism” officials, CIA officials, or commandos. They also train 40,000 police assault teams and law enforcement personnel a year. From this it can be safely assumed that they follow standard—if not always officially admitted—American military/intelligence/police practices.

Blackwater’s chief executive, Erik Prince, worked for the first president Bush (whom he considered too “liberal”) and is a major contributor to the present president’s party. So are several of his family members, some of whom are influential Republican operatives. He is also a religious fanatic closely connected to the Christian fundamentalist movement, a common trait among today’s U.S. military officers. (Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books, 2007.) That book compares Blackwater to the Praetorian Guard, the personal army of Roman emperors. An American columnist called it a symptom of an emerging “evangelical-military complex.” Prince himself compares his gunmen to the armed prophets of the Bible doing god’s work.

Although much of this has come out in the media, members of the U.S. Congress and other leading American politicians and much of the media itself have portrayed Blackwater as a rogue organization whose Iraq operations are outside of and even counter to official channels and policies.

To show that’s not true, it would be enough to cite the enormous number of similar massacres and other atrocities committed by regular forces just doing what they always do. One recent news item can stand for the rest:

A U.S. Marine unit rampaged through Haditha in northwestern Iraq’s Anbar province on November 19, 2005, killing 24 people, including seven children, three women and several elderly men. Angry about the bombing death of a U.S. soldier as their convoy sped through town, they decided to get revenge on anyone they could find. First they went up to a taxi and killed all five people inside. Then over the next few hours they broke into three houses, killing all the occupants. Five unarmed men were gunned down while they had their hands in the air.

The story would never have gotten out if a local human rights activist had not shot video footage immediately after the killings, which the American military had already justified as self-defense in the face of a “terrorist attack.” The outcry in Iraq was echoed abroad, and forced the U.S. to respond. The sergeant leading the unit, who along with another soldier had shot the five men, was charged with murder.

Almost two years later, as the “investigation” of the crime rolls lazily along, the investigating officer recommended October 5 that the charges against him be reduced to a far lesser offence, negligent homicide. The general overseeing the case had already dropped all charges against four of the eight accused Marines. Sergeant Frank Wuterich said he was sorry about the deaths but that he and his men were only following standard procedure. In his defense, his lawyer said, “There has never been any inkling that any of these Marines lost control or went on a rampage.”

In other words, like the Blackwater shooters, the Haditha Marines did what they were supposed to do—and in their case, so far, at least, the U.S. government has confirmed that.

The father of one of the Nisoor Square victims asked, “Why is the blood of Iraqis so free for everyone to spill?”

…The American troops in Iraq are all occupiers, whether on the public or private payroll, and they fight like occupiers whose enemy is a whole people...

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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