Sunday, September 23, 2007

Opinion (David DeVoss): Iraq's 'Dirty Harrys'

Blackwater. The name says it all, conjuring images of imminent danger, hidden predators and night terror. From the moment Blackwater USA arrived in Iraq to protect L. Paul Bremer III's Coalition Provisional Authority until last week, when its guards killed 11 Iraqis and wounded 13 more while escorting a diplomatic convoy through Baghdad, the North Carolina-based private security company has been known for its swaggering image and "Dirty Harry" demeanor.

All the U.S. private security armies in Iraq may be cut from the same khaki cloth, but each has its own personality. When I arrived in the country in September 2004 as a senior information officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, bodyguards with Kroll Inc., whose credo is "in risk there is opportunity," met me at the airport. They were British and Irish veterans of Belfast's "Troubles" and viewed terrorists with a world-weary stoicism.

Our convoy had pulled onto the airport highway and was heading for the Green Zone when three black Chevy Suburbans flashed past. The rear door of the trailing vehicle was open, and inside sat a man dressed in black cradling a large-caliber machine gun. Bandoleers crisscrossed his chest, several handguns and a large knife dangled from his weapons harness and an enormous handlebar mustache covered most of his face.

The look was designed to inspire dread, but it was carried to such cartoonish extremes that the man resembled Yosemite Sam more than the Terminator. "That's Blackwater," said the Kroll driver disdainfully. "You'll see a lot of them while you're here."

Read the rest at the LA Times