Scene of Blackwater Shooting Was Chaotic
By JAMES GLANZ and SABRINA TAVERNISE
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.
The operation, by the private firm Blackwater USA, began as a mission to evacuate senior American officials after an explosion near where they were meeting, several officials said. Some officials have questioned the wisdom of evacuating the Americans from a secure compound, saying the area should instead have been locked down.
These new details of the episode on Sept. 16, in which at least eight Iraqis were killed, including a woman and an infant, were provided by an American official who was briefed on the American investigation by someone who helped conduct it, and by Americans who had spoken directly with two guards involved in the episode. Their accounts were broadly consistent.
A spokeswoman for Blackwater, Anne E. Tyrrell, said she could not confirm any of the details provided by the Americans.
The accounts provided the first glimpse into the official American investigation of the shooting, which has angered Iraqi officials and prompted calls by the Iraqi government to ban Blackwater from working in Iraq, and brought new scrutiny of the widespread use of private security contractors here.
The American official said that by Wednesday morning, American investigators still had not responded to multiple requests for information by Iraqi officials investigating the episode. The official also said that Blackwater had been conducting its own investigation but had been ordered by the United States to stop that work. Ms. Tyrrell confirmed that the company had done an investigation of its own, but said, “No government entity has discouraged us from doing so.”
An Iraqi investigation had concluded that the guards shot without provocation. But the official said that the guards told American investigators that they believed that they fired in response to enemy gunfire.
The Blackwater compound, rimmed by concrete blast walls and concertina wire in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, has been under tight control. Participants in the Sept. 16 security operation have been ordered not to speak about the episode. But word of the disagreement on the street has slowly made its way through the community of private security contractors.
The episode began around 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16. Diplomats with the United States Agency for International Development were meeting in a guarded compound about a mile northeast of Nisour Square, where the shooting would later take place.
A bomb exploded on the median of a road a few hundred yards away from the meeting, causing no injuries to the Americans, but prompting a fateful decision to evacuate. One American official who knew about the meeting cast doubt on the decision to move the diplomats out of a secure compound.
“It raises the first question of why didn’t they just stay in place, since they are safe in the compound,” the official said. “Usually the concept would be, if an I.E.D. detonates in the street, you would wait 15 to 30 minutes, until things calmed down,” he said, using the abbreviation for improvised explosive device.
But instead of waiting, a Blackwater convoy began carrying the diplomats south, toward the Green Zone. Because their route would pass through Nisour Square, another convoy drove there to block traffic and ensure that the diplomats would be able to pass.
At least four sport utility vehicles stopped in lanes of traffic that were entering the square from the south and west. Some of the guards got out of their vehicles and took positions on the street, according to the official familiar with the report on the American investigation.
At 12:08 p.m., at least one guard began to fire in the direction of a car, killing its driver. A traffic policeman said he walked toward the car, but more shots were fired, killing a woman holding an infant sitting in the passenger seat.
There are three versions of why the shooting started. The Blackwater guards have told investigators that they believed that they were being fired on, the official familiar with the report said. A preliminary Iraqi investigation has concluded that there was no enemy fire, but some Iraqi witnesses have said that Iraqi commandos in nearby guard towers may have been shooting as well, possibly leading Blackwater guards to believe that militants were firing at them.
After the family was shot, a type of grenade or flare was fired into the car, setting it ablaze, according to some accounts. Other Iraqis were also killed as the shooting continued. Iraqi officials have given several death counts, ranging from 8 to 20, with perhaps several dozen wounded. American officials have said that no Americans were hurt.
At some point during the shooting, one or more Blackwater guards called for a cease-fire, according to the American official.
The word cease-fire “was supposedly called out several times,” the official said. “They had an on-site difference of opinion,” he said.
In the end, a Blackwater guard “got on another one about the situation and supposedly pointed a weapon,” the official said.
“That’s what prompted this internal altercation,” the official said.
The official added that in the urgent moment of a shooting events could often become confused, and cautioned against leaping to hasty conclusions about who was to blame.
CNN Report on Blackwater
Blackwater shooting indiscriminately calling Iraqis "Niggers"
Aljazeera English on Blackwater
By JAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 — The State Department said Thursday that Blackwater USA security personnel had been involved in 56 shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq so far this year. It was the first time the Bush administration had made such data public.
Blackwater, a large, privately held security contractor based in North Carolina, provided security to diplomats on 1,873 convoy runs in Iraq so far this year, and its personnel fired weapons 56 times, according to a written statement by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte.
The State Department did not release comparable 2007 numbers for other security companies, but the new Blackwater numbers show a far higher rate of shootings per convoy mission than were experienced in 2006 by one of the company’s primary competitors, DynCorp International. DynCorp reported 10 cases in about 1,500 convoy runs last year.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Blackwater’s rate of shootings was at least twice as high as the rates for other companies providing similar services to the State Department in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked Mr. Negroponte to oversee the department’s response to problems with security contractors.
A government official who was briefed on an hourlong meeting involving State Department officials on Thursday morning said that Ms. Rice had appeared surprised at the report that Blackwater had been involved in a higher rate of shootings than its competitors.
“She needs to be convinced that Blackwater’s hands are clean,” the government official said. Ms. Rice was also said to be taken aback by pressure from Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who issued an angry letter to her this week complaining about what he saw as the State Department’s efforts to block his panel’s investigation into Blackwater.
The meeting on Thursday with Ms. Rice seems to signal that the State Department’s leaders now recognize that the Blackwater issue is more serious than they had first thought, and that it may become harder for the Bush administration to defend Blackwater and allow the company to retain its prominent role in providing diplomatic security in Iraq.
Since the Sept. 16 shooting in the streets of Baghdad involving an American convoy guarded by Blackwater that left at least eight Iraqis dead, the Bush administration has fended off public demands by the Iraqi government for Blackwater to be evicted from the country.
Instead, the administration has said that it will conduct an investigation jointly with the Iraqis into the shooting, while American government officials have repeatedly indicated that they do not believe that the White House or the State Department would force Blackwater out of the contract.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that it had sent a team to Iraq to investigate the role of security contractors there, in what appeared to be an effort to put private contractors under greater control by the United States military. The State Department quickly joined the Pentagon, and said that it would also send a team to review the role of contractors in Iraq.
Separately, a new study issued Thursday by Mr. Waxman’s oversight committee was highly critical of the company’s performance in a 2004 case in which four Blackwater contractors were killed in the restive Anbar Province city of Falluja. The committee concluded that witness accounts and investigative reports conflicted with Blackwater’s assertion that its contractors had been sent to Falluja “with sufficient preparation and equipment.”
In a statement, Blackwater said that the committee’s report was “a one-sided version of this tragic incident.”
“What the report fails to acknowledge is that the terrorists determined what happened that fateful day in 2004,” Blackwater said. ”The terrorists were intent on killing Americans and desecrating their bodies.”
I just want to know, who is guarding the Iraqi people? Not Blackwater...not the US Military. It is the Iraqis and other Arabs in the Middle East. I think those are the ones we call "insurgents". I believe I would also become an insurgent if a foreign power had invaded my country and refused to leave or help. With estimates of well over 4 million Iraqi refugees, the US has taken in maybe a few hundred. That is just a drop in the bucket. The American people need to take on the task to aid the Iraqis because the government will not do it. Our president doesn't even want to help children in his own country, he's not going to extend a hand to aid Iraqi children.