IG report says Blackwater may lose license in Iraq
By MATTHEW LEE,Associated Press Writer AP - Thursday, December 18
WASHINGTON - An internal State Department report says Blackwater Worldwide may lose its license to work in Iraq and recommends the agency prepare alternative ways to protect its diplomats there.
The 42-page report by the State Department's inspector general says the department faces "numerous challenges" in dealing with the security situation in Iraq, including the prospect Blackwater may be barred from the country. The department would then have turn to other security arrangements to replace Blackwater, officials said.
"The department faces the real possibility that one of its primary Worldwide Personal Protective Services contractors in Iraq _ Blackwater (Worldwide) _ will not receive a license to continue operating in Iraq," the recently completed report says.
The report is labeled "sensitive but unclassified."
An official familiar with the report said initially it would recommend that department not renew Blackwater's contract when it expires next year. But that specific language is not included in the document, a copy of which The Associated Press obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report is not yet public.
The official said later that such a recommendation would not be made until after an investigation of last September's incident in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqis is complete. Five guards have been indicted on manslaughter and other charges stemming from that incident. The company was not implicated.
The department had no immediate comment on the report itself. Deputy spokesman Robert Wood said officials were looking at "whether the continued use of Blackwater in Iraq is consistent with the U.S. government's goals and objectives."
It is not clear how the department would replace Blackwater. It relies heavily on private contractors to protect its diplomats in Iraq, as its own security service does not have the manpower or equipment to do so. The report suggests one way to fill the void would be for the department's Diplomatic Security Service to bolster its presence in Iraq.
A decision on how U.S. diplomats in Iraq are to be protected will be left to the Obama administration, which will be in place when Blackwater's contract comes up for renewal in the spring.
Sen. John Kerry, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a critic of Blackwater and the use of private security companies. "The era of Blackwater must finally end," said Kerry, D-Mass.
"It will benefit the incoming administration to have reassurance from the State Department that Blackwater's contract should be seriously questioned, but it's disheartening that it took 15 months from a tragedy in Baghdad for the Bush administration to reach an overdue conclusion," Kerry said.
But terminating the North Carolina-based company's Iraq contract will be difficult for Obama's Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton because no other private security contractor has its range of resources, particularly its fleet of helicopters and planes.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a review of the department's use of private security companies after the Nisoor Square shooting. The inspector general's report is an analysis of how recommendations in that review have been put into place and includes several important findings, including that the department plan for the possibility that it may no longer be able to rely on private contractors such as Blackwater.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment, saying the company has not yet seen the report. The company has said in the past it plans to largely get out of the security contracting business to concentrate on training and other projects.
Blackwater has won more than $1 billion in government contracts under the Bush administration. A large portion of has been for work in Iraq, where among the company's duties is protecting diplomats based at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
State Department officials have praised Blackwater's work in Iraq, noting that no personnel under the company's protection has been killed. But after the Nisoor Square incident, the company came under heavy criticism for action of its employees, immune from Iraqi law under legal protections dating from the U.S.-led occupation of the country.
Immediately after the shooting, the State Department stepped up its supervision of Blackwater employees in Iraq, including posting a Diplomatic Security agent in every convoy the company escorts and installing video cameras in its vehicles.
The immunity enjoyed by Blackwater employees and other private security guards who protect civilians in Iraq will soon come to an end under a new U.S.-Iraqi security pact that will take effect on Jan. 1.
U.S. investigators have linked Blackwater guards to 70 shooting incidents involving civilians before Nisoor Square and only two since then.
Separately, in a notice posted Wednesday, the department issued new rules to boost its monitoring of how Blackwater exports sensitive equipment, such as guns and ammunition. The "policy of denial" forces Blackwater and its affiliates to file extra paperwork and progress reports.
The department said the oversight is necessary to ensure that Blackwater "is both capable and willing" to comply with the country's export laws. The restrictions took effect this month.
Blackwater has acknowledged it made numerous mistakes over the years in compliance with export laws. It has established a panel of defense experts and former prosecutors to ensure it follows the rules.
Federal prosecutors have investigated how Blackwater handled its arms shipments to Iraq. The company has denied accusations it is smuggling guns and argues that most of its violations have been failures of paperwork and timeliness.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo in Washington and Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
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