Looks like Blackwater Security is getting kicked out of Iraq.

raq’s Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead.

 Sunday’s firefight took place near Nusoor Square, an area that straddles the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Mansour and Yarmouk.

In addition to the fatalities, 14 people were wounded, most of them civilians, the official said.

The ministry said the incident began around midday, when a convoy of sport utility vehicles came under fire from unidentified gunmen in the square.

The men in the SUVs, described by witnesses as Westerners, returned fire, and the witnesses said the vehicles are the kind used by Western security firms.

George isn’t gonna be real happy with the Iraqi government trying to, you know, make sovereign decisions and all.

An official with the U.S. Embassy told The Associated Press that a State Department motorcade came under small-arms fire near Nusoor Square, and one of the vehicles was disabled.

The official said no State Department officials were injured but provided no information on Iraqi casualties, the AP reported.

“We have revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Monday. “The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday’s killing will be referred to Iraqi justice.”

Needless to say, not a whole lot of folks are going to be really pleased in the Bush Administration to see Blackwater lose its license.  That’s going to draw a lot of condemnation and whispers from the “serious pundits”, who are probably going to say that while it’s fine for Iraqis to lay down the law, that they shouldn’t lay it down on the “people trying to provide security” for the region.

Which brings up the real bad blood on the PSC (private security contractor) issue:  These guys aren’t exactly held to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  They’re floating around in this nebulous umbra between soldier and civvie, and it’s because of that they usually end up doing some very dirty work.  Dirty work that includes firefights with the locals, and this kind of thing has been going on for years now.  It’s nothing new.  But the Iraqi government action against Blackwater is new.

There’s thousands of mercs in Iraq. If the Iraqis are willing to pull the plug on Blackwater until further notice, that’s going to draw a lot of heat from the US.  After all, these PSC contracts are sweetheart deals for Bush buddies.  There’s billions involved in this private army that nobody talks about… and the Bushies like it that way.

Now we’ve got what amounts to a front page story about Blackwater mercs gunning down Iraqi civilians.  I’m betting this isn’t the first time that this has happened.  It is however the first time I can recall the Iraqi government (sic) standing up to a US PMC and saying that not only is Blackwater’s license to kill is revoked, but that the mercs involved will be facing Iraqi justice and not US justice.

And that’s probably got a lot of people in Washington pretty scared and pissed off.  Not to gloss over the eight dead and 14 wounded, it’s tragic every time something like that happens, and in Iraq that happens on a daily basis.  That’s how far into Hell we’ve tossed the Iraqis without a lifeline.

But the PMCs were the elephant in the room.  There’s literally tens of thousands of them in Iraq, and not a whole lot of press about them.  For the Iraqi government to suddenly take notice and ban the largest PMC in Blackwater, that means something’s up.

Iraqi authorities have issued previous complaints about shootings by private military contractors, but Iraqi courts do not have the authority to bring contractors to trial, according to a July report from the Congressional Research Service.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee estimated in February that nearly $4 billion had been spent on security contracts amid the insurgency that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003 — costs that have forced the delay, cancellation or scaling back of some reconstruction projects.

The US says the Iraqis don’t have authority over PMCs.  The Iraqis have just said otherwise.

Who’s going to win that particular battle, I wonder.  Furthermore, why are the Iraqis choosing to make an issue of it now?  Are they finally sick and tired of PMCs killing civilians?  Are they making a statement against Bush, or against the notion that that Malaki should be replaced as PM?  Was this just the last straw?

Or is there something else at work, like say, the Iraqis putting Bush on notice that the US is officially no longer welcome in Iraq?

Update [2007-9-17 14:5:24 by Zandar1]: More from the NY Times:

Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, said the authorities had canceled the company’s license and barred its activity across Iraq. He said the government would prosecute the deaths, though according to the rules that govern private contractors, it was not clear whether the Iraqis had the legal authority to do so.

“This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent before,” said Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq’s interior minister, speaking on satellite television. “Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis.”

While the President may want the status quo in Iraq, it seems the Iraqis are challenging it.

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