Banned Blackwater Wants Back in Iraq; Iraqis Question US Embassy with 15,000 'Staff'
December 13, 2011
Anti-War.com & Wired Magazine & Al-Sumaria TV
Blackwater Inc., a mercenary company once banned from Iraq for stealing guns and killing civilians, is hoping for new security contract with the Iraqi government -- with a new name and a new leadership team that includes former US Attorney General John Ashcroft. Meanwhile, three leading Iraqi politicians have questioned Washington's plans to install 15,000 employees at the sprawling new US Embassy. The claim the group's intended purpose was not diplomacy but surveillance.
US Mercenaries Aim to March Back into Iraq
Blackwater Inc., now named "Academi," is vying to work again as mercenary security forces in Iraq
John Glaser / Anti-War.com
WASHINGTON (December 12, 2011) -- The mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater Inc. is again vying for security contracts with the US and Iraqi governments to re-enter Iraq, after high profile abuses tarnished their name.
"As we make changes and they take root and we convince everyone they're real," new CEO Ted Wright told Wired's Danger Room, "then the real proof in the pudding is convincing the government of Iraq and the US government to let us do business in Iraq."
Trying to escape association with such past incidents as the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, wherein Blackwater soldiers killed 17 Iraqi civilians, Blackwater Inc. had changed its name to Xe Services. Now, engaged in yet another re-branding attempt, the name has been changed again to "Academi."
Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman writes that the new name and a shift of focus is "part of convincing everyone that the company has turned over an ethical leaf" and that new CEO "Wright promises 'accountability and openness' over the company's actions. Translation: no more stealing guns, coked-up warzone parties, or killing civilians."
"A consortium of investors close to the family of founder Erik Prince bought the company in late 2010," writes Ackerman, "and spent 2011 putting together its new leadership team," which includes the likes of "former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Bill Clinton consigliere Jack Quinn and Suzanne Folsom from the insurance giant AIG."
Academi is now working hard for a new business license to again work as mercenary security forces in Iraq. Its previous license under Blackwater Inc. was taken away after the Nisour Square massacre. As almost all US troops leave, private security firms are filling those gaps, and Blackwater may soon have its chance again in Iraq.
Blackwater 3.0: Rebranded 'Academi' Wants Back in Iraq
Spencer Ackerman / DangerRoom, Wired Magazine
(December 12, 2011) -- So much for naming your mercenary company after an obscure element from the periodic table. Say goodbye to Xe. The company formerly known as Blackwater -- the world's most infamous private security corporation -- has jettisoned the name it chose in its 2009 rebrand. Now the "security solutions provider" wants to wash away the taint of the 2007 Nisour Square shootings by adopting the new name "Academi."
But the company is changing its name -- not its core business. And it even wants back into the country where it ran its brand through the mud: Iraq.
"Our focus is on training and security services. We're continuing that," new CEO Ted Wright tells Danger Room. "We're not backing away from security services. The lion's share of our business today is providing training for security services and [providing] security services."
If Blackwater -- sorry, Academi – was a sports franchise, you'd consider 2011 its rebuilding year. A consortium of investors close to the family of founder Erik Prince bought the company in late 2010, and spent 2011 putting together its new leadership team. It brought on board former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Bill Clinton consigliere Jack Quinn and Suzanne Folsom from the insurance giant AIG. Wright came from military-services giant KBR. Notice a pattern? All have deep experience with crisis management.
Notice another pattern: All of those hires either worked in senior government positions or worked closely with those who did. That signals confidence in the company's traditional business -- getting big government contracts to protect diplomats, aid workers and even the military in dangerous places. On its new website, Academi says providing "stability and protection to people and locations experiencing turmoil" is its "core" business. New name, same wheelhouse.
The name, however, is meant to convey that "we lead with training," Wright says -- using the company's "elite training facility" at Moyock, North Carolina to train cops, first responders, and even US troops. No more will the company, say, act like a cutout for the CIA.
Xe certainly didn't get the company out of the private security business. But after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians at Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, turning the company radioactive, it played down its own brand name. When Xe ventured out into the security business, it often did so by using spinoff, subsidiary or front companies that obscured their ties to Xe, like "International Development Solutions," its partnership with Kaseman that won part of a $10 billion State Department security contract in 2010.
That's coming to an end, Wright says. All future Academi subsidiaries "will have the word 'Academi' in front." International Development Solutions will keep its name, however, since Academi is a "minority partner" in the firm.
And that's part of convincing everyone that the company has turned over an ethical leaf. Academi will issue new codes of conduct to its guards and trainers soon, and Wright promises "accountability and openness" over the company's actions. Translation: no more stealing guns, coked-up warzone parties, or killing civilians.
Wright acknowledges that rebranding the world's most infamous security company might seem like an exercise in cynicism. And so he sets himself a challenge: getting the company back into Iraq. "As we make changes and they take root and we convince everyone they're real," Wright says, "then the real proof in the pudding is convincing the government of Iraq and the US government to let us do business in Iraq."
That's a hard sell: Iraq stripped Blackwater of its business license after Nisour Square. Iraqis are unlikely to give Academi anything like the benefit of the doubt. But with US troops set to leave Iraq at the end of the month, mercs are filling the security gap. There's a lot of business to be had -- if Wright and company can convince either government they deserve it.
Wright wants a shot to show a very skeptical world that Academi represents "an institution of trained thinkers and warriors," he says, conveying "excellence, dignity, honor, integrity."
Iraqi Critics Questions Size of US Embassy Staff in Baghdad
Monday: 7 Iraqis Killed, 16 Wounded
Margaret Griffis / Anti-War.com
(December 12, 2011) -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's trip to the United States opened the door to criticism from those who question the ongoing presence of US personnel in Iraq, even if they technically aren't troops. Diyala province, meanwhile, confirmed it will seek greater autonomy from Baghdad. Also, at least seven Iraqis were killed and 16 more were wounded in new attacks.
While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is visiting the United States, back home some detractors of ongoing US presence in Iraq made their opinions clear. Parliament Speaker Osama Al Nujaifi and Ammar Al Hakim, who heads the Islamic Supreme Council, separately questioned retaining 15,000 employees at the new US Embassy in Baghdad.
A third critic, Sadrist M.P. Jawad Alshahyli, went as far as to describe the group's purpose being mostly surveillance, not diplomatic, and considers them a threat to Iraqi sovereignty. He thinks they should number no more than the equivalent staff at the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C. Embassy spokesperson Michael McClellan, on the other hand, said the large staff reflects the size of Iraq-American relations, but he also added that some staffers could eventually be replaced by Iraqis.
Diyala province's council has voted to officially seek semi-autonomous region status, claiming mistreatment from Baghdad as the source of the desire. Perhaps coincidentally, a special team from Baghdad arrested a Kurdish councilmember. Relations between Diyala and Baghdad have been strained in recent years, particularly in predominantly Kurdish areas. The province joins Salah ad Din and Basra in seeking greater autonomy.
In Baghdad, two Interior Ministry staffers were shot to death in separate locations. A blast in Ghazaliya lured first responders to a second bombing that left seven wounded, mostly civilians. Five people were wounded in a machine gun attack on liquor stores in Bataween.
An I.E.D. explosion in Wadi Hajar killed two civilians and wounded three policemen.
In Samara, one civilian was killed and another was wounded in a blast.
Two soldiers were killed during a clash at an outpost in Tal Afar.
Iraq Speaker: Keeping 15000 Employees at US Embassy in Iraq is Illogical
BAGHDAD (December 12, 2011) -- Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama Al Nujaifi considered, on Monday, that keeping 15 thousand employees at the US embassy in Iraq after US troops' withdrawal is illogical. This issue requires answers from Iraqi government, Nujaifi revealed indicating that the parliament will host Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to discuss Security Forces' readiness at his return from Washington.
"Under diplomatic representation and bilateral relations' exchange in accordance with the Strategic Framework Agreement signed with Iraq, it is illogical to have 15 thousand employees at the US embassy after US troops' withdrawal from Iraq," Osama Al Nujaifi told a press conference attended by Alsumarianews at the parliament building.
"Maliki's visit to Washington is very important and we will receive him in parliament, as soon as he returns to Iraq, to discuss Iraqi Security Forces' readiness and needed funding and support to defend Iraqi borders and internal security," Nujaifi added, a source told Alsumaria.
US embassy's spokesman in Baghdad Michael Mcclellan assured, on Saturday December 10, that the current employees of the US embassy count about 15 thousand by the knowledge and approval of the Iraqi government, Mcclellan declared noting that US embassies in other countries have the same number of employees.
The Islamic High Council headed by Ammar Al Hakim stated, on December 11, that having 15 thousand employees at the US embassy in Baghdad is a mammoth number and is believed to be an excuse to stay in big numbers in the country. Americans are now using other means to remain in Iraq, he concluded.
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