While the five Blackwater contractors and their parent firm (now renamed Xe Services) are undoubtedly relieved, the overall private security sector should refrain from cheering because this is not good news for them.
To understand why, go back to the days after September 16, 2007, when 17 Iraqis were killed and at least 18 wounded in Baghdad as Blackwater contractors were escorting a convoy in the western Baghdad district of Mansour near Nisoor Square.
Blackwater claimed the convoy was attacked by armed insurgents. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy said that the shooting occurred after a car bomb exploded while U.S. diplomats were nearby.
U.S. military reports from the scene indicated that Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians. A New York Times article noted that the cascade of events began when a single bullet apparently fired by a Blackwater guard killed an Iraqi man whose weight probably remained on the accelerator and propelled the car forward. The car continued to roll toward the convoy, which responded with an intense barrage of gunfire in several directions, striking Iraqis who were desperately trying to flee.
Minutes after that shooting stopped, a Blackwater convoy — possibly the same one — moved north from the square and opened fire on another line of traffic a few hundred yards away, in a previously unreported separate shooting.
Reportedly American investigators were told that during the shootings at least one Blackwater 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.
Reportedly FBI agents found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly‐force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq.
Some in the industry believe that the past immunity Blackwater received from its State Department contract encouraged it to emphasize its mission — the protection of its clients — to the exclusion of all other considerations: a sort of “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude.
Such an attitude has been criticized even by other parts of the government. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a news conference that the mission of many contractors in Iraq — to protect their U.S. government employers regardless of other consequences — was: