Badges? We Don't Need No Stinking Badges!
As I mentioned yesterday, there's no guarantee that Blackwater will actually leave Iraq, no matter what the Iraqi government says.
However, it's unclear how the Interior Ministry would expel Blackwater. Unlike other private U.S. security firms in Iraq, as of May, Blackwater hadn't registered with the Iraqi government to operate in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority -- the now-defunct occupational government -- issued a decree in 2004 (pdf) immunizing security contractors from Iraqi prosecution and placing their operations under the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities.
Blackwater, one of many security firms safeguarding U.S. personnel in Iraq, has an estimated 1,000 employees operating in the country, and Iraq-related contracts with the State Department worth over $100 million. Official estimates place between 20,000 and 30,000 private security contractors in Iraq -- the equivalent of about six U.S. Army brigades. Their operations are controversial in and outside Iraq: in May, the company was involved in two firefights in as many days in eastern Baghdad, right on the doorstep of an incensed Interior Ministry. One of the incidents began after an Iraqi driver drove too closely to a Blackwater convoy, resulting in the contractors killing the driver after attempting, unsuccessfully, to wave him away.
In Congressional testimony last week, Ambassador Ryan Crocker praised private security firms working in Iraq. He is unlikely to allow the Interior Ministry to expel Blackwater without a fight: not only is Blackwater a contractor with the U.S. government, its personnel and those of its rival rival firms keep Crocker and many of his colleagues alive. Expect the ministry's decision to spark a serious diplomatic row between the U.S. and the Iraqi government, which will be under public pressure to demonstrate that it's holding the firm accountable.
Condi Rice is already racing to apologize and cajole the Iraqis into "allowing Blackwater to stay" - in other words, making sure they know they don't have the jurisdiction to make them leave. I said yesterday that the best thing the Bush Administration could do for stability in Iraq would be to compel Blackwater to leave. But it won't happen - they simply can't afford to replace them with military forces, and giving new contracts out would damage relationships (and I don't see Iraq being pacificed by new mercenaries instead of old ones).
UPDATE: Looks like the Iraqi government is taking it a step further.
The Iraqi government said today that it would review the status of all foreign and local security companies working in Iraq after a shooting that left eight Iraqis dead [...]
A spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that the cabinet met today and supported the decision to cancel Blackwater’s license and begin an immediate investigation. The ministry has said that it would prosecute the participants in the shooting, but a law issued by the American occupation authority prior to the return of sovereignty to Iraq in 2004 grants American contractors, along with American military personnel, immunity from Iraqi prosecution.
Mr. Dabbagh said the investigation should “compel the company to respect the Iraqi laws, citizens’ dignity and the results and consequences the investigation would come up with.”The statement by the Iraqi government today seemed to blame Blackwater employees directly for the deaths, calling it a “vicious assault which was carried out by the employees of the American security company” against Iraqi citizens.