RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Blackwater Runs Deep

Just hours after General Petraeus announced that the surge is going well, and just weeks after British Prime Minister Tony Blair left office, falling on his sword over his bad decision for going into Iraq, the Iraqi government tried to take the destiny of their nation into their own hands. They announced they would kick out Blackwater USA, the independent "stability operations" company that has been providing substitute soldiers to occupy Iraq.

The news that the Iraqi government planned to kick Blackwater USA out of the nation sent me scrambling for my dog-eared copy of the Iraq Constitution. Started in 1996, Blackwater calls itself "The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world".

Can the Iraqi government really kick out an American company?

Indeed, it looks like they can, if they take seriously Article 33, which says, "Every individual has the right to live in a safe environment." Apparently, the Iraqi Interior Ministry determined that eight Iraqi civilians lost that right when they were caught in a Blackwater firefight.

Blackwater has amassed millions of dollars in contracts paid by US taxpayers. According to CNN, there are three private security firms awarded US contracts to protect US personnel in Iraq, and Blackwater holds "at least $800 million in government contracts." These contracts, awarded without bidding, include such things as paying guards for other US companies, such as food companies serving the US military. Halliburton is the general contractor that hires the private companies paid by US taxpayers in Iraq.

In 2004, four Blackwater workers were killed while guarding food service contractor ESS. Under the contract, Blackwater made $815 per day for a basic security guard, who was paid $600. Blackwater was also paid for room and board, insurance, and overhead. On top of that, Halliburton was paid a 2% fee for obtaining the contract.

This money machine for Halliburton and Blackwater is just one example of industry profiting from the Iraq War. Indeed, it's getting easy to make the case that the war is not about oil. This war is about a huge amount of profiteering for companies created for no other reason but to make war.

And that idea makes even the most hardened flag-wavers feel sick. Our kids sacrificed so that fat cats can buy condos at Cabo San Lucas?

There are many advantages to the government when they use contractors instead of soldiers. First of all, they don't have to recruit, and the current climate has made recruiting tough. There is also less public concern if contractors are killed. The company's soldiers are generally called "mercenaries," which has an evil sound, like a private army hired by Dr. No. Mercenaries are in it for adventure and money, paid more than soldiers. Mercenaries are not fighting for America as our patriotic young men. We do not feel as responsible for them.

Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has been tracking Blackwater, says that the deaths of contractors are tracked, if at all, by the Department of Labor rather than the Department of Defense. Their numbers come up when their families file for federal insurance under the Department of Labor. More than 600 families had filed as of late 2006.

Blackwater, built on the auto-parts fortune of a wealthy Michigan family that helped finance the religious right and the Bush wins, was in good position to benefit from the Iraq war. With connections to the administration, Blackwater could take advantage of the Bush administration's desire to privatize the Department of Defense.

And why did the administration want to privatize the department? Partly because, as Rumsfeld claimed, the department was incompetent at tracking money. On September 10, 2001, Rumsfeld announced that the Department of Defense "cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions." This was a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Well, now the transactions are tracked, and the taxpayer dollars are going into corporate pockets.

And the final question is, "Can the Iraqi government kick out all the private contractors?" Scahill estimates that there are about 100,000 contractors in Iraq now, working for an estimated 25 companies from many nations. About 48,000 of them mercenaries, suggesting that as the "real" military are taken out, a process that Britain and other countries have begun, the mercenaries can fill the gap.

This Iraq war is all about industry profit. After all, if it was about finding weapons of mass destruction, and there were none, we should have gotten out when Bush landed on that military carrier declaring "Mission Accomplished" on May 1, 2003.

And if the war was about finding Saddam Hussein, we should have gotten out when he was executed in December 2006. By not getting out, George W. Bush and his supporters have betrayed our trust and the trust of the military.

This war is darned profitable for a few at the expense of the rest of us.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2007

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