A confrontation between the U.S. military and the State Department is unfolding over the involvement of Blackwater USA in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square Sept. 16, bringing to the surface long-simmering tensions between the military and private security companies in Iraq, according to U.S. military and government officials.Washington Post:
In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department's authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. "The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they've built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event," the official said.
"This is a nightmare," said a senior U.S. military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term." The official was referring to the prison scandal that emerged in 2004 in which U.S. soldiers tortured and abused Iraqis.
An ongoing battle between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a House committee investigating Iraqi government corruption and the activities of the Blackwater security firm erupted into another skirmish yesterday as Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) accused Rice of interfering with the committee's work and preventing administration and Blackwater officials from providing pertinent information.Los Angeles Times:
In the latest of a series of exchanges, Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Rice to urge that she "reconsider the unusual positions you are taking." Congress has a "constitutional prerogative" to look into the issues, he wrote, and she is "wrong to interfere with the Committee's inquiry."
The State Department has interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater USA, the private security firm accused of killing Iraqi civilians last week, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration, according to documents revealed Tuesday.
In a letter sent to a senior Blackwater executive Thursday, a State Department contracting official ordered the company "to make no disclosure of the documents or information" about its work in Iraq without permission.
The letter and other documents were released Tuesday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), whose House committee has launched wide-ranging investigations into contractor abuses and corruption in Iraq.