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Blackwater CEO: Iraqis Fired on Us at Nisour Square, But I Can't Prove It
Spencer Ackerman –
Blackwater's Erik Prince is all over television these days, making the rounds on Late Edition, 60 Minutes and, tonight, Charlie Rose. His line is that Blackwater is a responsible security firm operating under duly constituted legal authority in Iraq. The trouble, as always, is Nisour Square, where Blackwater guards, apparently believing they were under attack, killed 17 Iraqi civilians. In particular: were Blackwater guards even fired on by Iraqis?
The U.S. military and the Iraqi government say no. In fact, the U.S. unit on the scene says that Blackwater fired on Iraqis as they ran from the square. But Blackwater says its convoys came under "complex attack" -- first from a nearby car bomb that put the convoy on notice, and then from small arms fire. It was a line that Prince reiterated in his television appearances. "At least three of our armored vehicles were hit by small arms fire incoming," Prince told Wolf Blitzer yesterday. "There was definitely incoming small arms fire from insurgents."
Both eyewitness accounts and an Iraqi investigation -- reliant on videotape, interviews and other unspecified investigative methods -- have discounted the idea that Iraqis fired on Blackwater. Prince was pressed on the forensic evidence on the scene: the spent rounds that reportedly match Blackwater weapons, and not Iraqi ones. (If the small arms fire came from insurgents, chances are you would find Kalashnikov rounds littering the square, and Blackwater guards aren't known to fire the inferior, non-U.S. weapon.)
His reply? It would probably take a "battalion" to thoroughly secure the square sufficiently for a thorough forensic search, so "the jury's still out." He told 60 Minutes' Lara Logan that neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqis performed a "C.S.I."-like investigation.
And according to a transcript of his interview to be broadcast tonight on Charlie Rose, he'll say that "I'm confident that one of our vehicles was disabled by small arms fire to the point that it had to be towed away from the scene, and I've seen pictures of multiple pockmarks from bullets in that vehicle."
But just because Blackwater's trucks were pockmarked by bullet holes doesn't necessarily mean that insurgents fired upon them. What follows is pure speculation:
According to the initial Blackwater-penned State Department account of Nisour Square, there were multiple Blackwater convoys on the scene at nearly the same time. One of them, TST 23, arrived on the scene and, the report says, took small arms fire. It says that an additional team, TST 22, came to relieve TST 23, but by the time it arrived TST 23 had been evacuated. Given how dubious that report looks in light of later reports, it's at least possible that the timing on the report is off, and Blackwater teams from opposite positions in the square -- perhaps given the chaos of the exploded Iraqi car -- may have fired in each other's direction.
Prince denied that happened. "I guarantee our guys weren't shooting at each other," Prince told Blitzer. This should be a relatively easy matter for forensic investigation: check to see what sort of rounds tore through Blackwater's disabled vehicles. We'll see what happens when the FBI completes its investigation.