Monday, November 12, 2007

License Too Ill

Noah Shachtman is right, this does sound like "a recipe for something ugly":

The Iraqi interior minister said Wednesday that he would authorize raids by his security forces on Western security firms to ensure that they were complying with tightened licensing requirements on guns and other weaponry, setting up the possibility of violent confrontations between the Iraqis and heavily armed Western guards. [...]

“Every company will be subject to such examination, and any company that does not follow the law will lose its license,” the minister, Jawad al-Bolani, said of the planned raids. “They are called security companies. They are not called violate-the-law companies.” [...]

Within Baghdad’s relatively safe and heavily guarded Green Zone, there have been early indications of a battle over who controls Iraqi streets. Private security guards say that Iraqi police officers have already descended on Western compounds and stopped vehicles driven by Westerners to check for weapons violations in recent weeks.

Any extension of those measures into the rest of the country, known as the Red Zone, could quickly turn into armed confrontation. Westerners are wary of Interior Ministry checkpoints, some of which have been fake, as well as of ministry units, which are sometimes militia-controlled and have been implicated in sectarian killings. Western convoys routinely have to choose between the risk of stopping and the risk of accelerating past what appear to be official Iraqi forces.

And because Western convoys run by private security companies are often protecting senior American civilian and military officials, the Iraqi government’s struggle with the companies has in some cases become a sort of proxy tug-of-war with the United States.

That dynamic was laid bare in the weeks immediately after the shooting on Sept. 16 in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The Iraqi government at first suggested that it would ban Blackwater, which has a contract to protect American diplomats, from working in Iraq. But the government was embarrassed when it discovered that its legal options were limited, and the United States — after placing a few new restrictions on the company — quickly sent it back onto the streets.

Interesting notion of sovereignty: the "sovereign" Iraqi government has only limited legal options for regulating mercenary forces hired by a foreign power that are operating within Iraq's borders. Solving problems such as these through the legal/legislative/route route has advantages over attempts to assert sovereignty through the confrontation of armed groups (i.e., less dead and wounded) - or so we have been lecturing Iraqis ad nauseum. But then, you need both sides to buy into that model of governance for it to work, and with respect to this issue at least, we haven't exactly led by example.

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