Flexing Muscle, Baghdad Detains Contractors U.S.
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC SCHMITT
The detentions have occurred largely at the airport in
The crackdown comes amid other moves by the Iraqi government to take over functions that had been performed by the
Just after the last American troops left in December, the Iraqis stopped issuing and renewing many weapons licenses and other authorizations. The restrictions created a sequence of events in which contractors were being detained for having expired documents that the government would not renew.
The Iraqi authorities have also imposed new limitations on visas. In some recent cases, contractors have been told they have 10 days to leave
Latif Rashid, a senior adviser to the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and a former minister of water, said in an interview that the Iraqis’ deep mistrust of security contractors had led the government to strictly monitor them. “We have to apply our own rules now,” he said.
This month, Iraqi authorities kept scores of contractors penned up at
Private contractors are integral to postwar
An image of contractors as trigger-happy mercenaries who were above the law was seared into the minds of Iraqis after several violent episodes involving private sector workers, chief among them the 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square when military contractors for Blackwater killed 17 civilians.
The delays for visa approvals have disrupted the daily movement of supplies and personnel around
“While private organizations are often able to resolve low-level disputes and irregularities, this issue is beyond our ability to resolve,” the International Stability Operations Association, a Washington-based group that represents more than 50 companies and aid organizations that work in conflict, post-conflict and disaster relief zones, said in a letter on Sunday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Doug Brooks, president of the organization, said in a telephone interview that the number of civilian contractors who have been detained was in the “low hundreds.” He added in an e-mail on Sunday, “Everyone is impacted, but the roots have more to do with political infighting than any hostility to the
As Iraqi and American officials were negotiating last summer to keep American troops in
Mr. Rashid, the adviser to Mr. Talabani, said Iraqis are fed up with foreign contractors. “The Iraqi public is not happy with security contractors. They caused a lot of pain,” he said. “There is a general bad feeling towards the security contractors among the Iraqis and that has created bad feelings towards them all.”
Mr. Rashid said that traveling to the
An adviser to Mr. Maliki said that as part of the current agreement between the
“Iraq always welcomes foreigners into the country, but they have to come through legally and in a way that respects that Iraq now has sovereignty and control over its land,” said the adviser, Ali Moussawi.
Last month, two Americans, a Fijian and 12 Iraqis employed by Triple Canopy, a private security company, were detained for 18 days after their 10-vehicle convoy from Kalsu, south of Baghdad, to Taji, north of the capital, was stopped for what Iraqi officials said was improper paperwork.
One of the Americans, Alex Antiohos, 32, a former Army Green Beret medic from North Babylon, N.Y., who served in the Iraq war, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he and his colleagues were kept at an Iraqi army camp, fed insect-infested plates of rice and fish, forced to sleep in a former jail, and though not physically mistreated were verbally threatened by an Iraqi general who visited them periodically. “At times, I feared for my safety,” Mr. Antiohos said.
In a statement, Triple Canopy, which denied any problems with documents, said that during the detention period, company officials were in contact with employees by cellphone, and brought them food, blankets, clothing, medical supplies and cellphone batteries. All were released unharmed on Dec. 27.
The detention drew the ire of Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee. His office was contacted by Mr. Antiohos’s wife on Dec. 19 seeking help to get the employees released. Mr. King criticized the United States Embassy in Baghdad for failing to help release the contractors caught in a drama that he said might have resulted in part from rival Iraqi ministries’ battling for political primacy.
“They could have been held as power plays by one Iraq department against another, but what adds to the problem is that it does not appear that the State Department is doing anything near what they could be doing,” Mr. King said in a telephone interview.
The United States Embassy in
“The embassy has pushed for consistency and transparency in the government of
One senior American military official said that the current disconnect between the Iraqis and the contractors was “primarily an adjustment of our standard operating procedures as we adapt our people and they adapt their security forces to the new situation.”
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs