Mercenaries and Occupiers

The killing and mutilation of four Americans in Iraq were played to shock television audiences at home — “too terrible to show.” The attack added four more to the more than 50,000 deaths in Iraq that we’re responsible for during the Bush administration. (The Clinton administration was responsible for many more.) American officials replied with immediate threats of revenge attacks, and have now sealed off Fallujah. Apparently this is what the White House meant when it “vowed [according to the New York Times] that the United States would finish its peacekeeping mission in Iraq despite the grisly attacks on civilian contractors.”

The Republican administration’s putative opponents immediately agreed: Democratic presidential candidate Kerry said that we are “united in our resolve that these enemies will not prevail”; Democratic House leader Pelosi said, “We’re not going to run out of town”; and “maverick” Senator McCain, asked whether he could see the United States withdrawing from Iraq, replied, “I cannot.”

These “contractors,” the Times explained elsewhere, were from Blackwater USA, “a private military firm that provides an array of services once performed solely by military personnel. The company trains soldiers in counterterrorism and urban warfare. It also provides the American government with soldiers for hire: former Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy Seals. In February it started training former Chilean commandos — some of whom served under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet — for future service in Iraq.”

“Blackwater has about 400 … armed commandos” in Iraq, said the Washington Post: it, not the military, guards US proconsul L. Paul Bremer. Blackwater “has contracts as well with the departments of Defense, State and Transportation. The company also did work in Afghanistan … Blackwater is in Moyock, N.C., just across the Virginia border, and U.S. law enforcement and military personnel frequently use its 6,000-acre site for weapons training … [it was also] paid $13 million between April 2002 and June 2003 for security training of Navy personnel. The firm’s president and training director, and Blackwater Security Consulting’s director, are veteran Navy SEALs. The name Blackwater alludes to covert missions undertaken by elite divers at night.”

The men killed in Fallujah were in short American mercenaries, being paid $1,000 a day — one wonders, for what? Were their “contracts” of the Mafia sort? Were they part of an American death squad, contributing to the pacification of Iraq as the American Phoenix program once in did in Vietnam, by arranging literally tens of thousands of mob-style hits?

There is evidence that the killing of these mercenaries was not random, and that it was done in retaliation for the American-sponsored assassination of the head of Hamas (which killed eight people and wounded twenty-four others), ordered by the Israeli government. (As Juan Cole pointed out, “He could have easily been arrested, and had been in the 1990s, but he was incinerated in a piece of state terror instead.”) The US patron and the Israeli client seem to be following the same policies of occupation, with similar results.

Of course the US has no intention of withdrawing from Iraq, regardless of who’s elected president this fall. On the contrary, the establishment of US military bases throughout what the Pentagon calls the Greater Middle East is an essential part of the permanent US government strategy to control world energy resources as the way to control our economic rivals, principally Europe and northeast Asia. (Massive support for a militarized Israel as our “stationary aircraft carrier” is another.)

Consequently the US is building the world’s largest embassy eventually to be staffed by 3,000 people in Baghdad. The CIA station in that city is already the largest in the world, larger even than the CIA operation in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War. The ring of American bases (described in Chalmers Johnson’s new book, Sorrows of Empire) includes those in Uzbekistan, whose ruler is famous for boiling his opponents alive; as a monster, he compares favorably with our former client in the region, Saddam Hussein.

This policy is in the interest of the economic elites who dominate both US political parties, but it’s obviously not in the interest of the people of the region, nor of the people of the United States. That’s why the Bush administration (and every other administration) has to lie about what we’re doing in Iraq, and about the “war on terrorism,” to the only group it actually fears — the American populace.

C.G. ESTABROOK teaches at the University of Illinois and writes the weekly News from Neptune column. He can be reached at:


C. G. Estabrook conducts “News from Neptune” on Urbana (IL) Public Television.  He can be reached at