On Sept. 16, private security contractors working for Blackwater USA opened fire in a crowded traffic circle in Central Baghdad, killing 11 Iraqis. Since the incident, Blackwater and the State Department have insisted that the guards were responding to a “hostile attack.”
But a comprehensive report by Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, released last week, concluded that the Blackwater employees “fired an unprovoked barrage in the shooting” and that the “company is considered 100 percent guilty” for the incident.
Newsweek’s Kevin Peraino, who has had access to “an extensive evidence file put together by the Iraqi National Police,” told CNN today that the evidence is “largely consistent with what the Iraqi officials…have been saying all along”:
They said that Blackwater, the firing was unprovoked. They don’t know why it happened. All the witness statements that I saw, that they had collected there, said that there was no apparent reason for the firing to begin.
Though the State Department has yet to issue it’s own incident report, Blackwater has a history of firing first that would appear to support Peraino and the Iraqi government’s claims.
In a memo released today, House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reveals that of the 195 “escalation of force” incidents Blackwater has been involved in since 2005, Blackwater forces fired first in over 160 of them:
According to the Blackwater incident reports received by the Committee, Blackwater personnel have participated in 195 incidents in Iraq from January 1,2005, through September 12, 2007 , that involved firearms discharges by Blackwater personnel. This is an average of 1.4 incidents per week. In 32 of those incidents, Blackwater personnel were returning fire after an attack, while on 163 occasions (84% of the shooting incidents), Blackwater personnel were the first to fire.
Despite the controversy around Blackwater, the Pentagon recently awarded the firm a new contract worth $92 million. Tomorrow, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince will testify before Waxman’s committee tomorrow.
UPDATE: The Oversight Committee’s staff also found evidence that the State Department “helped create an environment where Blackwater guards could use deadly force with minimum reprisal.”