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Old 04-09-2004, 10:57 AM   #1
Timber Loftis
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April 9, 2004
Security Firm Says Its Workers Were Lured Into Iraqi Ambush
By DAVID BARSTOW

At first, their gruesome deaths seemed the work of yet another random ambush in Iraq, this one made unforgettable by images of incensed Iraqis celebrating the sight of charred corpses swinging from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

But now it appears that the four private security contractors killed, burned and mutilated in Falluja last week were in fact lured into a carefully planned ambush by men they believed to be friendly members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, according to Patrick Toohey, a senior executive at the security firm, Blackwater USA.

The Iraqi men, Mr. Toohey said, promised the Blackwater-led convoy safe and swift passage through the dangerous city, but instead, a few kilometers later, they suddenly blocked off the road, preventing any escape from waiting gunmen.

"The truth is, we got led into this ambush," Mr. Toohey, vice president for government relations at Blackwater, said in an interview, offering the company's first detailed account of the attack.

"We were set up," he said.

Two senior Pentagon officials said yesterday that they could not independently confirm the conclusions of the Blackwater investigation, and that a separate military inquiry was continuing.

Mr. Toohey said his company's investigation of the incident, which included interviews with convoy drivers who survived the ambush, had not yet determined whether the Blackwater employees were led into Falluja by active members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, or whether they were led into the city by imposters wearing defense corps uniforms. But the convoy, on a mission to pick up kitchen equipment, had little cause for suspicion: the Iraqi escort had been arranged and met with the convoy as planned at an intersection just east of Falluja.

"They said, `We'll escort you, show you a short way through Falluja,' " Mr. Toohey said.

Imposters or not, he said, the incident underscored deepening concern about the reliability of the Iraqi civil defense forces at a time when allied troops are fighting in many parts of Iraq to suppress militant Sunni and Shiite groups.

Mr. Toohey's account, if confirmed, could deflect blame for the incident from Blackwater, which is based in Moyock, N.C. And the company's initial findings are in line with recent complaints from senior American officials about Iraqi forces.

In testimony last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, spoke openly of his worries about the Iraqi security and police forces, now numbering more than 200,000.

"There's no doubt that terrorists and insurgents will attempt to infiltrate the security forces," he said. "We know it's happening, and we know it has happened. We attempt to do our best with regard to vetting people."

Also, the Pentagon has received new intelligence reports warning that Sunni and Shiite militia groups have been ransacking Iraqi police stations in some cities, and then handing out both weapons and police uniforms to angry mobs, government officials said.

Yesterday, the interim interior minister of Iraq, the official responsible for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, resigned, citing criticism from L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator. Although Blackwater provides for Mr. Bremer's personal security detail, it is not clear whether Mr. Bremer's criticism specifically related to the Falluja attack on the Blackwater team.

"There's a question about whether they were set up and whether it was an inside job by Iraqi civil defense people," one American intelligence official said. "That's a problem across Iraq, knowing which of the so-called Iraqi police forces are on our side and on their side. There's no question there is information flowing out to the bad guys."

At the same time, the four Falluja deaths and other clashes involving private security guards have prompted fresh questions about the scores of security companies working in Iraq on contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. With thousands of private security employees now guarding supply lines, buildings and reconstruction projects — and with thousands more on the way — they are increasingly being drawn into firefights and other combat situations that traditionally have been left to the military.

Last weekend, eight Blackwater contractors assigned to protect a building in Najaf fought alongside four marines and three Salvadoran soldiers to defeat a determined attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia members. The men fired thousands of rounds, yet were very nearly overrun, Mr. Toohey said. "They were down to single digits of ammo, less than 10 rounds a man."

Desperate and unable to communicate directly with military commanders, the eight Blackwater contractors instead called in help from Blackwater employees, he said. With approval from Mr. Bremer's staff, three Blackwater helicopters — the same ones used to ferry Mr. Bremer around Iraq — were dispatched to the Najaf battle to drop ammunition and retrieve a wounded marine.

"It was O.K. with him if they went out and saved some American lives," Mr. Toohey said of Mr. Bremer.

In a letter to the Pentagon yesterday, Democratic leaders requested information about the methods and activities of private security companies in Iraq, expressing concern that they could "contribute to Iraqi resentment." Thirteen Democratic senators — including the Democratic leader, Tom Daschle; Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee; and the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV — called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to provide "an accurate tally" of the privately armed non-Iraqi security personnel in Iraq. They also requested that the Pentagon adopt written guidelines, with supporting legal justification, for the rules of engagement security contractors should follow, as well as instructions on coordinating with the military and the future sovereign Iraqi government.

"It would be a dangerous precedent if the United States allowed the presence of private armies operating outside the control of governmental authority and beholden only to those who pay them," the senators said in the letter.

Blackwater employs some 450 "independent contractors" in Iraq to protect Mr. Bremer, guard five regional buildings used by the occupation forces and provide security for supply convoys. Mr. Toohey said the growing use of security contractors deserves a thorough debate both in the United States and around the world. "This is a phenomenon," he said. "This is a whole new issue in military affairs. Think about it. You're actually contracting civilians to do military-like duties."

But for some relatives of the Blackwater men killed in Falluja, the immediate questions are focused on the precise circumstances surrounding the attack and its horrific aftermath. "Why weren't they escorted?" asked Tom Zovko, brother of Jerry Zovko, one of the Blackwater men killed in Falluja. "I don't believe my brother would have done that. He was definitely not careless."

Mr. Toohey said Blackwater officials have begun to piece together the events of March 31 in part through interviews with three convoy truck drivers who survived the attack. The drivers and other witnesses, he said, described "a classic, well-planned vehicle ambush" in which the five-vehicle convoy was suddenly blocked from the front and the rear by vehicles.

"The I.C.D.C. blocked the road, and the ambush happened," he said, referring to the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a force trained by the United States to guard roads and utilities and to fight insurgents. The assailants first "opened up at point-blank range" on the rear car in the convoy, he said, then fired on the lead vehicle.

"This ambush didn't even take 60 seconds," Mr. Toohey said.

The senior military spokesman in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said yesterday in a telephone interview that he was not aware of the Blackwater inquiry's findings and had been focused on current military operations. Officials at the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps did not respond to telephone messages.

Blackwater executives have briefed several members of Congress in recent days on the Falluja deaths, Congressional aides said. Mr. Toohey and Erik Prince, the company's owner, met Wednesday with at least four Senators, including John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican, who heads the Armed Services Committee.

At the same time, Mr. Toohey said, Blackwater has made changes in "tactics, techniques and procedures" as a result of what they have already learned about the Falluja attack. The company has also set up a fund to collect donations for the families of the four men.


Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from New York for this article. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and James Risen contributed reporting from Washington.
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Old 04-09-2004, 12:08 PM   #2
johnny
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Very brave act, ambushing defenseless civilians.
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Old 04-09-2004, 12:56 PM   #3
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So, in other words, they were mercenaries/illegal combatents performing military guard duty rather than simple civilians engaged in reconstruction/charity work.

That does rather cast their deaths into a slightly different light - although it doesn't change anything with regards to what was done with their bodies.

I think that the government ought to reconsider this policy of hiring mercenaries to do the work of the military.
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Old 04-09-2004, 12:58 PM   #4
Timber Loftis
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I again bow to your ability to see the terrorists' point-of-view skunk. You do yourself proud.
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Old 04-09-2004, 01:01 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Timber Loftis:
I again bow to your ability to see the terrorists' point-of-view skunk. You do yourself proud.
What do you mean? I'm just calling a spade a spade. If a non-uniformed non-member of the military is paid to perform military duties, then he is a mercenary/member of a private army.

Likewise, it is Washington's OWN DEFINITION, that those who engage in military style exercises in a war zone who do not wear military uniforms nor display military insignia are to be defined as illegal combatents. I didn't come up with this definition, your own administration did.

How exactly is Washington's own view the 'terrorist point of view'? Because if the definition has changed, then the 600 'Security Consultants' locked up in GM Bay need to be released immediately.

[ 04-09-2004, 12:29 PM: Message edited by: Skunk ]
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Old 04-09-2004, 01:54 PM   #6
Timber Loftis
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Civilian security personnel are assisting with police-type efforts in Iraq. They are like private security guards in the US. There has to be some staffing of these positions while we train a help Iraqis get full police protection put in place. There's nothing wrong with hiring security firms to protect buildings and do these other police functions.

Mercenaries are hired to take military action. That is different. But, either way, who cares? The word "mercenary" isn't particularly offensive to me, nor does it necessarily contain bad connotations.

Comparing these civilians who are over there trying to perform a needed and good job to the detainees in Gitmo is insulting, but it's also stupid. Sitting in a building in Iraq trying to protect it from crime/attack is not exactly comparable to sitting in a military-style training compound in Afghanistan trying to figure out how to kill innocent people in a spectacular fashion in the U.S.

As I said, it's just stupid. Once again, given burned mutilated bodies on one hand and AK-47-toting terrorist wannabes, who also desecrate dead bodies, on the other hand, I note whose defense you rush to and who you choose to criticize.

I realize that in your fondest late night dreams, you may be a renowned resistance leader against the US, but I'm just sick of hearing so much about it here.
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Old 04-09-2004, 02:05 PM   #7
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First a few Senators here have called for oversite of the civilan security personel working in Iraq:

http://www.boston.com/dailynews/099/...r_contr:.shtml


Second the private security firms like the one the victims of the ambush/corpse desecration worked for may start carrying explosive armament :

http://www.suntimes.com/output/iraq/...-iraq04s1.html

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Civilians shouldn't be doing the military's work in a war/occupation zone.
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Old 04-09-2004, 02:13 PM   #8
Timber Loftis
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Disagree.
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Old 04-09-2004, 02:17 PM   #9
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They are still fighting alongside US soldiers (as your own article describes) in the defense of key military occupation positions. That makes them illegal combantents.

You can't rewrite the definitions and say "it's different because they are US citizens/hired by the US government".

There are ACTUAL afghan policemen being held in GM bay as 'illegal combatents' because they weren't wearing a military uniforms while defending their country. POLICE STATIONS were fired upon by the US during the Afghan war - and policemen were considered legitimate targets then - so why not now?

And this changing definitions routine is just plain hypocritcal.
These Kalashnikov-toting military wannabes *are* members of a private army and therefore illegal combatents. They are defending military installations, occupation administration centres and supply convoys - and they do not wear insignia or any kind.

There is no comparision to someone defending their country from attack and a private mercenary fighting for financial gain. In that, we are in agreement.

[ 04-09-2004, 01:24 PM: Message edited by: Skunk ]
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Old 04-09-2004, 03:07 PM   #10
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I've got to disagree with you Skunk that these security forces are illegal combatants. These firms must have some way of dealing with US armed forces or the Pentagon wouldn't allow them in Iraq in the first place. Maybe a liason officer or something of the sort....

I would like to know how these "independent contractors" are being used however. It seems to me that these forces shouldn't be providing convoy escorts if they need an escort of their own.
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