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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1586

Letter from America: The Unholy Emergence of Blackwater in the Emirates

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Habib_Siddiqui_71.jpgRemember Blackwater USA, the private military group, which worked as contractors for the U.S. State Department? Since June 2004, it has been paid more than $320 million out of a $1 billion, five-year State Department budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which protects U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones.

Inside Iraq alone, at one time, it employed no less than 20,000 armed security forces. In the post-Saddam Iraq, they drew much notoriety for their trigger-happy, gung ho attitude. Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security staffs were involved in 195 shooting incidents; in 163 of those cases, Blackwater personnel fired first.

On March 31, 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah attacked a convoy containing four Blackwater contractors. According to Iraqi accounts, the men broke into homes and raped some women. The four contractors were attacked and killed with grenades and small arms. Later their bodies were hung from a bridge crossing the Euphrates. In April 2005 six Blackwater independent contractors were killed in Iraq when their Mi-8 helicopter was shot down.

On February 16, 2005, four Blackwater guards escorting a U.S. State Department convoy in Iraq fired 70 rounds into a car. An investigation by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service concluded that the shooting was not justified and that the Blackwater employees provided false statements to investigators. The false statements claimed that the one of the Blackwater vehicles had been hit by insurgent gunfire, but the investigation found that one of the Blackwater guards had actually fired into his own vehicle by accident. John Frese, the U.S. embassy in Iraq's top security official, declined to punish Blackwater or the security guards because he believed any disciplinary actions would lower the morale of the Blackwater contractors.

On February 6, 2006 a sniper employed by Blackwater Worldwide opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry, killing three guards working for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network. Many Iraqis at the scene said that the guards had not fired on the Justice Ministry. On Christmas Eve 2006, a security guard of the Iraqi vice president was shot and killed while on duty outside the Iraqi prime minister's compound by an employee of Blackwater USA. Five Blackwater contractors were killed on January 23, 2007, in Iraq when their helicopter was shot down on Baghdad's Haifa Street. In late May 2007, Blackwater contractors opened fire on the streets of Baghdad twice in two days, one of the incidents provoking a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos.

On May 30, 2007, Blackwater employees shot an Iraqi civilian who was said to have been "driving too close" to a State Department convoy that was being escorted by Blackwater contractors. The Iraqi Government revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq on September 17, 2007, because of the death of seventeen Iraqis. The fatalities occurred while a Blackwater Private Security Detail (PSD) was escorting a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad with USAID officials.

As in many other previous cases, here again, it was found that Blackwater's guards had opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. The incident sparked at least five investigations, and an FBI probe found that Blackwater Employees used lethal force recklessly. The license was reinstated by the American government in April 2008, but in early 2009 the Iraqis announced that they have refused to extend that license.

Documents obtained from the Iraq War document leak argue that Blackwater employees have committed serious abuses in Iraq, including killing civilians. In the fall of 2007, a congressional report by the House Oversight Committee found that Blackwater intentionally "delayed and impeded" investigations into the contractors' deaths (of March 31, 2004).

So negative was the public reaction against the mercenary group, it had to change its name twice – first in October 2007 to Blackwater Worldwide and then to Xe Services LLC in February of 2009.

After all those serious incidents of unprovoked murderous orgy of unarmed civilians in Iraq by the trigger-happy mercenaries working as contractors for the U.S. State Department in the post-Saddam era, one would have thought that we had seen the last of Blackwater and its CEO Erik Prince. But we were wrong. Utterly wrong! We forgot that evil sells big time! An ugly monster is more preferable to an Mafia Don than an attractive good hearted man.

Erik Prince has settled in Abu Dhabi, and has opened a mercenary wing there. It goes by the name Reflex Responses (R2). The company, often called R2, was licensed last March. Outside Americans, Brits, French and some Colombians, R2 has recruited a platoon of South African mercenaries, including some veterans of Executive Outcomes, a South African company notorious for staging coup attempts or suppressing rebellions against African strongmen in the 1990s.

Last Sunday the New York Times had a detailed report on this mercenary group which is employed by - who else this time but - the oil-soaked Emirates prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi to protect the sheikdom from threat. The lucrative deal is worth $529 million. R2 spends roughly $9 million per month maintaining the battalion, which includes expenditures for employee salaries, ammunition and wages for dozens of domestic workers who cook meals, wash clothes and clean the camp.

Obviously, the threat that the sheikdom fears is an internal one, and not from outside, no matter how it tries to paint Iran or other countries in the neighborhood. People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the R2 battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. (While the corrupt princes and sheiks draw wealth from God’s gift to the nation – the oil and natural gas resources, and the skyscrapers are built dotting the skies, the workers that work in those oil and natural gas fields, and the building construction industry are paid some of the lowest salaries imaginable.) The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E.

According to the NYT, Emirati law prohibits disclosure of incorporation records for businesses, which typically list company officers, but it does require them to post company names on offices and storefronts. Over the past year, the sign outside the suite has changed at least twice — it now says Assurance Management Consulting.

In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.

Emirati military officials had promised that if Erik Prince's first battalion of R2 was a success, they would pay for an entire brigade of several thousand men. The new contracts would be worth billions, and would help with Mr. Prince’s next big project: a desert training complex for foreign troops patterned after Blackwater’s compound in Moyock, N.C.

In spite of the Emirati propaganda to justify the presence of a foreign mercenary group that has earned infamy for its all too familiar trigger-happy murderous instinct and question-later attitude, I am convinced that this unholy alliance has much to do with avoiding a catastrophe like the one visited by the former strongmen of Tunisia and Egypt. They are afraid to be the next Shah, Zine ben Ali or Mubarak. But as history has shown so many times when the time comes no mercenary group can protect an unpopular regime.

On a recent spring night after months stationed in the desert, the R2 mercenaries boarded an unmarked bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai, a former employee said. There, some R2 executives had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes.

Where else in the Arab world but Abu Dhabi can one find such displays of sexually immoral acts? Bravo to the two princes - al-Nahyan and Erik!

- Asian Tribune -

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