If Erik Prince of Blackwater shows up at the House oversight committee's hearing into his company's activities in Iraq, expect him to get an earful. It's not just about the Mansour incident
, or the murky legal status
the private-security firm possesses. According to the Iraqi government, Blackwater employees engineered a jailbreak to free a minister convicted of corruption charges.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki referred obliquely to the incident yesterday. But a Defense Ministry spokesman told
Leila Fadel of McClatchy that Blackwater, in December, broke former Electricity Minister Ahyam al-Samarrai out of prison in the Green Zone, where he was awaiting sentencing for embezzling $2.5 billion in reconstruction money.
Until now, Iraqi officials hadn't named the private security company that they believe helped Samarrai, the only Iraqi cabinet official convicted of corruption, to escape from a jail that was overseen jointly by U.S. and Iraqi guards. He subsequently was spirited out of the country and is believed to be living in the United States.
The U.S. State Department made note of his escape in its December report on developments in Iraq, saying that "Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) said they believed he fled with the help of members of a private security company."
But the accusation that Blackwater, which earned at least $240 million in 2005 from contracts to provide security to U.S. officials in Baghdad, assisted in his escape raises questions about what American officials might have known about the breakout.
It's possible that Maliki and the Defense Ministry spokesman are misrepresenting what happened. But should Prince testify -- and the committee expects he will -- it'll be interesting to hear his response to the accusation. And, if it's true, his explanation.