Washington : The Sep 16 shooting incident involving the private security firm Blackwater USA has stirred anger in Iraq and an uproar in the US.
According to a report by the Washington Post Friday, even US military reports indicated that Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians.
Immediately after the killing incident, the Iraqi Interior Ministry launched an investigation and asserted that Blackwater security guards were at fault in the incident in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad, where at least 11 Iraqi civilians were killed.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki went as far as saying that the shooting amounted to a challenge to Iraq’s sovereignty and the security firm should leave the country, although the Iraqi government later backed off its pledge to ban the private security firm.
The shooting incident also stirred an uproar back in the US as the House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to make all private security contractors in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by US courts.
The bill was overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 389 to 30 as the first major legislation of its kind to be approved since the deadly shootout took place.
A US military official was quoted as saying that “The (Iraqi) civilians that were fired upon, they didn’t have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP (Iraqi Police) or any of the local security forces fired back at them.”
“They (Blackwater guards) tend to overreact to a lot of things. They manoeuvre around town very aggressively, they’ve got weapons pointed at people. When it comes to shooting and firing, they tend to shoot quicker than others,” the official said.
Under pressure, the US State Department said Friday it would send its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad, and would also install video cameras in Blackwater armoured vehicles to produce a record of all operations that could be used in investigations of the use of force by private security contractors.
However, the House bill faces an uncertain future as the White House has signalled unhappiness with it and President George W. Bush may not sign it to become law. What is more, it remains unclear whether the State Department has the will to effectively monitor the often arrogant security guards.
There have been calls from the Congress to bring those responsible in the shooting incident to justice.
“The secretary still needs to address the essential question of accountability: How will rogue individuals who commit criminal acts be brought to justice?” Republican David Price, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
According to a report by the New York Times Friday, it would be extremely unlikely and difficult to prosecute the Blackwater security guards even if the bill was adopted.
Shortly after the occupation of Iraq in 2003, the American administrator, Paul Bremer, issued a decree granting immunity to American military and civilian personnel, including private security guards, from criminal prosecution in Iraqi courts and the decree is still effective even as the Iraqi government has taken over authority from the US.
As a result, Iraqi courts would be powerless to prosecute the security guards, and it is also highly unlikely for American prosecutors to conduct extensive investigations under dangerous circumstances in Iraq, and bring evidence and witnesses back to the US, the New York Times report said.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the Blackwater security guards will remain free in Iraq.
Observers pointed out that after the Iraq war, the US has been suffering from a severe image crisis in Iraq as scandals concerning US troops were exposed one after another.
However, the US has been slow or reluctant to prosecute those involved in the scandals.
They added that if the US government maintains the criminal immunity the Americans enjoy in Iraq and fails to bring those responsible to justice, its reputation in Iraq would continue to get worse.