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Category

 Political

Published

 September, 2007

Synopsis

 O.J. Simpson Rides Again, and Helps the Right Wing

Blackwater Black Eye

By Al Owens
The Bush administration must be clicking a toast to O.J. Simpson these days. The near non-stop cable television news coverage of O.J.’s bizarre “sting” operation, may have helped obscure yet another embarrassment in Iraq.

Last week, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker gave congress their progress report on the lack of progress in Iraq. The surge is working, sort of.

George W. Bush, sensing somebody finally agrees with him about something, followed their testimony with a nationally televised speech in which he seemed to indicate that al-Anbar province will soon be as safe as Disneyland during non-peak hours.

The champagne must have been flowing freely around the White House, until the weekend. That’s when 11 Iraqis got themselves killed at the hands of some hired American guns on the streets of Baghdad. (The Iraqi government – what’s left of it – claims it wasn’t 11 people, but as many as 28)

The attack and the subsequent reaction to it by the government in Iraq has placed another strain on the already tense relationship between Baghdad and Washington – and called into question the extensive use of paid U.S. contractors in Iraq.

There are 180 security companies with as many as 48,000 security personnel on the federal payroll in that country. None is as controversial as the company known as Blackwater USA.

Blackwater provides its security services for those U.S. diplomats who’re at work trying to build alliances all over Iraq. The problem is those diplomats are stuck in the so-called Green Zone right now.

It was Blackwater’s gunmen who killed those Iraqis last weekend, and the Iraqi government wants the company stopped from doing business there. That means those diplomats have nobody to protect them.

"This crime has generated a lot of hatred in the government and the people against Blackwater," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters earlier this week.

Al-Maliki has temporarily pulled Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq, there’s been high level talks between his government and Washington, and investigations have been launched all over the place.

It’s enough to get the president to order O.J. to jump into a Bronco and head south!

And some of the victims who survived that Baghdad attack are talking.

One, Hasan Jaber Salman, rolled over in his hospital bed long enough to tell a reporter, "Within two minutes the security force arrived in planes -- part of the security company Blackwater. They started firing randomly at all citizens."

That’s quite a story from a lawyer who’d been heading to court at the Ministry of Justice, when he found himself caught in a Blackwater road block.

The practice of hiring private companies with their lucrative contracts has been under intense scrutiny since the war began in Iraq. That’s what makes Halliburton a household name.

Blackwater has steadfastly tried to defend against claims that it’s a private army that plays by its own rules in Iraq. “Blackwater only conducts defensive missions,” is a statement I found on its web site. An ironic statement I might add.

The North Carolina company has a reported 987 security personnel in Iraq, and pays them between $450 and $650 dollars a day. That’s government dollars.

Those dollars, according to The Congressional Research Service is paid for out of Blackwater held contracts that total 800 million dollars for services rendered in Iraq.

Nice work if you can get it. And there’s even a big question about how they got it.

There are whispers that Blackwater got those huge contracts because the guy who founded and runs it, Erik Prince, just loves to give money to Republicans and right-wingers.

Prince is 37 years-old. When he was an enterprising young man of 19, he sent the GOP a check for 15 thousand dollars. He eventually became a Navy Seal, and he interned with George H.W. Bush while he was president.

He’s since sent Republican candidates (George W. Bush and Rick Santorum among them) and the Republican National Committee an estimated 235 thousand dollars.

Prince founded Blackwater USA in 1997, and since then he’s built it to become, "The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world.” That is, when it’s not getting itself thrown out of countries.

Of course, some of those contracts Blackwater have benefited from are of the no-bid variety. That’s why there’s the persistent claim from some circles that Blackwater has gotten fat off the political connections of the guy who runs it.

That’s not necessarily a cynical claim either. Not when there are more private contractors functioning in Iraq, than there are military personnel. And when, at least two of them (Blackwater and Halliburton) have definite ties to Republicans. They form a couple of cozy relationships that fit like a glove.

And in the words of Johnnie Cochran (I think), “If the gloves fit, the U.S. government must commit.”