Baghdad, Iraq — The recent Blackwater incident in Nisoor Square, not far from our Baghdad headquarters, gives cause to reflect upon the Iraq war in general. As a result of my recently published book — Contractor Combatants — the TV networks called for my take on the incident that killed a reported eleven Iraqis, and wounded several more, in late morning rush-hour traffic in downtown Baghdad. Why, how, when, where — the questions came fast and furious live on TV, in a couple cases with CNN and CBS. The latest interview on Fox News brought to light my observation that we’re at a tipping point in the war. The threat level is falling off rapidly so those of us involved in security here need to change tactics accordingly.
Gone are the roving suicide car-bombers who, in the dozens, sought out targets in Baghdad, like the State Department convoy that Blackwater was protecting in Eagles Square (the name in English for the traffic rotary where these security contractors got into a firefight with hundreds of civilians caught in the crossfire). I can remember in late 2004, when a logistics convoy I was leading into the second battle of Fallujah crested a highway bridge not far from Nisoor Square, only to be blocked by the wreckage of two SUVs carrying now-dead USAID workers, framed by a 30-meter-wide scorched circle, centered on the remnants of a massive bomb packed into a Chevrolet Caprice. In the 24 hours that followed that incident, there would be more than ten such car-bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital. This al Qaeda-directed killing would continue on a regular basis for more than two years. With the eradication of the car-bomb factories in Al Anbar and the western Sunni suburbs of Baghdad, a process which began to take root in early 2007, those days are now behind us.
The tipping point has arrived, I believe, because the Iraqi Sunnis have turned en masse against al Qaeda. With al Qaeda retaliatory bombings of Abu Risha in Al Anbar, and with a reconciliation meeting between Shias and Sunnis in Baquuba, the capital of Diyala Province — a mixed region where al Qaeda has fled after being forced out of the Sunni west — there is no turning back. Al Qaeda is now at war with the very people that must provide the support necessary for the foreign-dominated radical jihadi movement to survive in Iraq. There can be no political victory for al Qaeda in Iraq now. We just have to keep the pressure on and they will continue to implode.
The war in Iraq is winding down for over two-thirds of the population. There are fewer than 15 insurgent-related incidents a day in Mosul (down from five times that amount a year ago and many of the current incidents are roadside bombs being found before detonation due to information from the local populace). The attacks in Basra are even fewer, especially now that Iran has backed off, realizing that the B-52s are a presidential phone call away. Even though it is the main insurgent target, Baghdad has seen attacks drop by half — and death-squad killings reduced by 75 percent — as the new Iraqi security services take on a more aggressive and present role. The city where I have lived now for a total of almost three years, has never been quieter. We will continue to see the occasional spectacular car bomb, but this will have no lasting effect on the general movement toward peace in Iraq.
Now the challenge in Iraq is the path to democracy and the implied task therein of reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, Arab and Kurd. Department of Defense contractors have been critical to the mission here. As General Petraeus wrote in a thank-you letter, after I gave him a copy of my book: “Our nation is indebted to the services provided by contractors, and I appreciate your efforts in helping the Coalition bring safety and stability to Iraq.” The time is drawing near when the role of contractor combatant will fade away, hopefully permanently.
A common joke among the 7,000 or so American and British contractor combatants in Iraq is that we are working our way out of a job. But just as when I became a federal whistleblower, and lost my job while getting Custer Battles banned from government contracting for fraud, the need for Western contractors in Iraq to be held accountable for criminal violations of the rules of the use of force is critical. This is important not only for justice to be served, but to set an example of the U.S. rule of law for the Iraqi people. And there is a mechanism for this purpose: the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA).
The problem is the new legal status of the contractor combatant in the American way of war. No one has ever been prosecuted under MEJA for war crimes, though it is easy to attack us (I have been referred to as a “mercenary” countless times). In the context of the fog of war, and with the reality of the ease of finding witnesses in Iraq with an agenda against the U.S. (as we have seen with the Marines in Haditha), this is a process that must be carefully developed. For, as Gen. Petraeus pointed out, contractors are serving our country’s mission in Iraq; therefore they should not be beyond the law but accountable to the law, and at the same time, fully protected by the law.
–Carter Andress, CEO and principal owner of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, is author of Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist.