The REAL Story of Blackwater's Bloody Sunday in Baghdad
by markthshark (dailykos)
Sat Sep 22, 2007 at 10:39:51 AM PDT
Six days ago, at least 28 civilians died in a shooting incident involving the US security company BlackwaterUSA. But what actually happened? Since the Baghdad incident, details emerging from the scene have been sketchy at best. Until now, that is.
Writing for the Independent, U.K. reporter Kim Sengupta journeyed to Baghdad and returned with a bone-chillingly realistic story of a suburban center caught up in a lawless, "wild-west" atmosphere, overflowing with weapons and dubious non-law enforcers alike.
What follows is Kim’s recap of what occurred that particular bloody Sunday.
The eruption of gunfire was sudden and ferocious, round after round mowing down terrified men women and children - slamming into cars as they collided and overturned - with drivers frantically trying to escape. Some vehicles were set alight by exploding petrol tanks. A mother and her infant child died in one of them, trapped in the flames.
Last Sunday’s deadly shootout in a Baghdad neighborhood involving the American private security firm, BlackwaterUSA, plunged into sharp Western focus the often violent conduct of U.S. private armies operating in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Armed with automatic weapons and virtually immunity from scrutiny and prosecution, the alpha mercs from Blackwater have acquired a notorious reputation across Iraq as a deadly, apathetic even anarchistic force. Surprisingly, Blackwater’s henious reputation has been reiterated by other private security companies as well.
The latest incident has sparked one of the most bitter, public disputes ever between the Maliki regime and American occupiers. Accusations are stark and aimed exclusively at BlackwaterUSA. In short, they’re accused of going on an unprovoked killing spree in a recently stabilized Baghdad neighborhood, and it was not the first time or place it’s happened.
The U.K’s Independent has the story:
Hassan Jabar Salman, a lawyer, was shot four times in the back, his car riddled with eight more bullets, as he attempted to get away from their convoy. Yesterday, sitting swathed in bandages at Baghdad's Yarmukh Hospital, he recalled scenes of horror.
"I saw women and children jump out of their cars and start to crawl on the road to escape being shot," said Mr Salman. "But still the firing kept coming and many of them were killed. I saw a boy of about 10 leaping in fear from a minibus, he was shot in the head. His mother was crying out for him, she jumped out after him, and she was killed. People were afraid."
At the end of the prolonged hail of bullets, Nisoor Square was a scene of carnage with bodies strewn around smouldering wreckage. Ambulances trying to pick up the wounded found their path blocked by crowds fleeing the gunfire.
Yesterday, the death toll from the incident, according to Iraqi authorities, stood at 28. And it could rise higher, say doctors, as some of the injured, hit by high-velocity bullets at close quarter, are unlikely to survive.
Blackwater and the US State Department maintain that the guards opened fire in self-defence as they reacted to a bomb blast and then sniper fire. Amid continuing accusations and recriminations, The Independent has tried to piece together events on that day.
The reports we got from members of the public, Iraqi security personnel and government officials, as well as our own research, leads to a markedly different scenario than the American version. There was a bomb blast. But it was too far away to pose any danger to the Blackwater guards, and their State Department charges. We have found no Iraqi present at the scene that saw or heard sniper fire.
Witnesses say the first victims of the shootings were a couple with their child, the mother and infant meeting horrific deaths, their bodies fused together by heat after their car caught fire. The contractors, according to this account, also shot Iraqi soldiers and police and Blackwater then called in an attack helicopter from its private air force, which inflicted further casualties.
Blackwater disputes most of this. In a statement, the company declared that those killed were, "armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately in a war zone protecting American lives."
The day after the killings, Mirenbe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, said the Blackwater team had " reacted to a car bombing". The embassy's information officer, Johann Schmonsees, stressed " the car bomb was in proximity to the place where State Department personnel were meeting, and that was the reason why Blackwater responded to the incident."
Not surprisingly, those on the receiving end of the violence tell a completely different story. Mr. Salman said when the shooting began, he had turned into the Nisoor Square right behind the Blackwater convoy:
"There were eight foreigners in four utility vehicles, I heard an explosion in the distance and then the foreigners started shouting and signaling for us to go back. I turned the car around and must have driven about a hundred feet when they started shooting. My car was hit with 12 bullets. It turned over. Four bullets hit me in the back and another in the arm. Why they opened fire? I do not know. No one, I repeat, no one, had fired at them.
The foreigners had asked us to go back and I was going back in my car, so there was no reason for them to shoot."
Muhammed Hussein lost a brother in the shooting and narrowly escaped death himself.
"My brother was driving and we saw a black convoy ahead of us. Then I saw my brother suddenly slump in the car. I dragged him out of the car and saw he had been shot in the chest. I tried to hide us both from the firing, but then I realised he was already dead."
Another resident, Jawad Karim Ali was on his way to pick up his aunt from Yarmukh Hospital when the shooting started. His windshield was blown out by the percussion of gunfire, chards of glass cutting his face:
"Then I was hit on my left shoulder by bullets, two of them another one went past my face. Now my aunt is out of hospital and I am sitting here. There was a big bang further away but no shots before the security people fired, and they just kept firing."
Incidents such as last week’s Baghdad "Bloody Sunday" have been happening in Iraq for years with most of the smaller shootings usually going unreported. However, due to the high number of victims in this latest episode, the Nisoor Square incident has morphed into a test of sovereignty between the powers of the Iraqi government and the U.S. occupiers. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said: "We will not tolerate the killing of our citizens in cold blood." The shooting was, he said, the seventh of its kind involving Blackwater.
These days, Blackwater’s reputation precedes their arrival wherever it goes. Its recognizable caravans are known afar by children and senior citizens alike. Even outside of their vehicles, Blackwater personnel are recognizable from their "uniform" of wraparound sunglasses and body armour over dark coloured sweatshirts and helmets. Employees are thought to earn about $600 (£300) per day.
It was the lynching of four of the company's employees in 2004, which led to the bloody confrontation in Fallujah. The men's bodies were set on fire, dragged through the streets and then hung from a bridge.
Nisoor Square is located in the Mansour District of Baghdad, once one of the most fashionable districts of Baghdad, with roads flanked by shops selling expensive goods, restaurants and art galleries. In the midst of sectarian bloodletting between Shias and Sunnis earlier this year, dead bodies would be regularly strewn in the streets. Since that time, a semblance of safety has returned, and Mansour was recently held up by the Bush regime as an example of how the US military "surge" was cutting the violence.
Now... not so much. That erroneous theory garners little credence in Baghdad.
Asked about the witness accounts, Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, confirmed:
"The traffic policemen were trying to open the road for them. It was a crowded square and one small car did not stop, it was moving very slowly. They started shooting randomly, there was a couple and their child inside the car and they were hit."
To the depths of my darkest nightmares could I ever envision living in what has literally become the bloodiest place on Earth. I haven’t a doubt in my mind that for the Iraqi people, the pre-invasion days of living under Saddam Hussein's iron fist, in tragic irony, are now looked upon as the proverbial good ol’ days.
And, this apocalyptic hell on earth is inflicted upon these innocents; in our names, as I speak.
Impede, impeach and imprison.