One of the dirty secrets of Bush's war in Iraq is how the US government has made extensive use of private mercenary armies to reduce the number of US troops that have to be committed so as to maintain public support for the occupation. The Associated Press has been exposing the sordid details of this unfortunate chapter of our involvement in Iraq.
There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers -- and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks.
They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.
Not one has faced charges or prosecution.
These mercenaries operate above and beyond the laws that govern US forces in Iraq. Not only that, they are also exempt from prosecution under Iraqi law as well. They essentially operate in a completely lawless manner in a country that itself is a failed state where lawlessness and criminality run rampant.
America's mercenary army functions as a substitute for regular military forces performing all variety of tasks, including providing protection for General Petraeus and the former American viceroy of Iraq Paul Bremer. One of the most well-known mercenary armies in Iraq is that of the infamous Blackwater USA. The organization, which is headed by a former Navy seal and Christian extremist, has about 1,000 combatants in Iraq and rakes in an estimated $800 million from the US government. The company is well-known for the 2004 incident in Fallujah where four of its mercenaries were attacked, lynched and strung up from a bridge. This incident helped to spark the incipient Iraqi insurgency that the US has been struggling to control ever since.
The Iraqi people hate Blackwater and companies like it:
... it has become the focus of numerous contractor controversies in Iraq, including the May 30 shooting death of an Iraqi deemed to be driving too close to a Blackwater security detail.
"The shooting of that Iraqi driver has intensified tensions," Schakowsky said. "The Iraqis are very angry."
Other alleged shootings involving private contractors include:
--An incident in which a supervisor for a Virginia-based security company said he was "going to kill somebody today" and then shot at Iraqi civilians for amusement, possibly killing one, according to two employees.
--Disgruntled employees of London-based Aegis Defence Services, holder of one of the biggest U.S. security contracts in Iraq -- valued at more than $430 million -- posted videos on the Internet in 2005 showing company guards firing automatic weapons at civilians from the back of a moving security vehicle.
In one sequence, a civilian car is fired on, causing the driver to lose control and slam into a taxi. Another clip shows a white car being hit by automatic weapons fire and then coming slowly to a stop.
Incredibly, these mercenaries have even attacked our troops in Iraq:
--Sixteen American security guards were arrested and jailed by U.S. Marines in battle-scarred Fallujah in 2005 following a day of shooting incidents in which they allegedly fired on a Marine observation post, a combat patrol and civilians walking and driving in the city, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
America's use of mercenary armies in Iraq is just one symptom of the precipitous decline in our moral standing in the world that began with the foolhardy and disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. There used to be a day, not long ago, when we wouldn't have even considered using hired guns to fight for our country overseas in place of the US Army or US Marine Corps.
But this sort of expediency is necessary these days for two reasons: 1) the absence of a draft which means we haven't got enough men under arms to occupy Iraq, and 2) the need to keep troop levels down in order to maintain political support for the war at home. Our own military is less than pleased with the actions of the private armies in Iraq:
The contractors were released and returned to the U.S., where they claimed the Marines humiliated and taunted them in prison, calling them "mercenaries" and intimidating them with dogs.
These mercenaries continue to endanger our troops and enrage the Iraqi people with their brutal and reckless tactics. They continue to undermine our efforts to build good will among the Iraqi people and establish law and order in that country. They represent yet another aspect of an occupation and a war that have gone disastrously off track. We can only hope that the next President reins in these hired guns and restores the practice of using American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to fight our wars for us.
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