The Blackwater security detail at Nisour Square on September 16 didn't just commit a "crime," as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki initially said
. It committed murder, according to the Iraqi government's official account of the incident.
Ali al-Dabbagh, Maliki's spokesman, told reporters yesterday that Blackwater was guilty of "deliberate murder"
when its guards fired upon the square, leaving 17 civilians killed. Dabbagh said the judgment was the verdict of the Iraqi government's investigation into the shootings, which are also under review by a joint American-Iraqi panel. Those investigators met for the first time over the weekend.
Both the Iraqi investigation and initial U.S. military reviews
have found that Blackwater did not come under small-arms fire at the square, contradicting the company's account of Iraqi insurgents provoking the attack. Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim told The New York Times
that "Not even a brick was thrown at them." Blackwater continues to deny wrongdoing -- let alone illegality -- and urges judgment be suspended until all inquiries are complete.
Dabbagh, however, was disinclined to accept the company's admonishments: the shootings were "a deliberate crime against civilians" that should be "tried in court." The Iraqi investigation would seem to support that conclusion.
In previously undisclosed details in the governmentâs final report, the Iraqi police documented that Blackwater guards shot in almost every direction, killing or wounding people in a near 360-degree circle around Nisour Square.
The thick file amassed for the investigation asserts that bullets reached bystanders who were as far as 200 feet away and nearly on the opposite side of the square.
The police investigation also shows that a second shooting, in which one person was killed and two wounded, occurred about 600 feet from the initial one on the opposite side of the square, along the departure route that the Blackwater team took from the first shooting.
Yet even as the Iraqis grow more and more outraged over Blackwater, the company shows signs of lengthening its stay in Iraq. An American official tells the Times that Blackwater figures it needs to extend some gesture of apology to the Iraqi government as a way of dampening the furor. But the Iraqi government, in the final analysis, is powerless to kick Blackwater out of Iraq as long as the State Department wants the company to protect its diplomats.
It's easy to understand Blackwater's calculation. No law exists to stop Blackwater from killing Iraqi civilians. A Blackwater guard who drunkenly shot and killed an Iraqi bodyguard for Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi was fired by the company but hired and sent back to Iraq by a different firm within three months. Right now, chances are that as long as the State Department is in Iraq, Blackwater will be, too.