General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Baghdad, have agreed on the details governing the operations of Blackwater and other private security contractors there, US officials said on Tuesday.
The agreement requires all State Department convoys in Iraq to coordinate their movements with the military's main operations center in Baghdad, sets minimum standards for training the contractors and outlines when armed guards can use force in self-defense.
The accord, which runs more than a dozen pages, fleshes out a broad understanding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached on Oct. 30 to bring Blackwater and other armed contractors under tighter supervision. Their deputies was expected to finalize the accord yesterday, aides said.
"It is a vast improvement on the oversight we had over private security contractors in Iraq," the Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in an e-mail message while traveling with Gates in Southwest Asia. "It will help ensure that all personal security contractors there are operating in a manner that is consistent with our mission to secure Iraq by winning the trust and confidence of its people."
A senior State Department official in Iraq added, "We've racheted up the level of coordination nationwide."
Gates directed Petraeus to report back in three months on how the accord is working, Morrell said.
One important issue the agreement does not address is the legal framework to prosecute any State Department contractors who violate the law. Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to some Blackwater employees present at a shooting in Baghdad on Sept. 16, when the company's security personnel killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
But some government lawyers have expressed concern that existing federal law will not apply to the actions Blackwater employees were accused of committing. The Senate version of the Pentagon's authorization bill, now in a conference committee, contains a provision that says private security contractors, if working in a combat zone, will be subject to Pentagon regulations, no matter which agency employs them.
The new agreement codifies arrangements that have been taking hold in practice since the Sept. 16 shootings.
The acting head of diplomatic security, Gregory Starr, told Blackwater employees last month about restrictions on the use of force for security teams protecting diplomats. He told Blackwater operators that "there needs to be clearer indicators" that an approaching car might hold potential suicide bombers before the contractors could open fire, according to a Blackwater employee who attended the Nov. 14 meeting in Baghdad.
Such indicators, Starr told the contractors, include cars that have a single driver but ride unusually low on their suspensions due to the weight of explosives.
"He wants us to assume more risks," said the Blackwater employee, whose account was confirmed by a State Department official.
Starr also said at the meeting that the State Department had not decided whether or not to replace Blackwater when its contract expires in May.
"He said Blackwater has not lost the contract here in Iraq, and that it entirely depends on our actions from here on out," the Blackwater employee said.
Starr also told the Blackwater employees that the Iraqis had warned him that more wrongful shooting incidents would force the Iraqi government to rescind a law that conferred immunity on private contractors.
The US government is also asking security companies in Iraq to develop a detailed ethics policy and training program by late December, said a US security manager in Baghdad.
"The government of Iraq is asking for more and more requirements from security companies," the security manager said. "This is a healthy sign. It shows that we are stabilizing the environment and that the government of Iraq is taking control."
But the new requirements, including visas and blood tests for all private security guards who enter Iraq, were creating frustration and some confusion among company managers in Iraq because there were no clear guidelines on how to fulfill them, the security manager said.
"Show me a document on how to get a visa: step 1, step 2," the manager said. "The military doesn't know. You ask them these things, and you get a shrug."
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,