Trump’s pardoning of Blackwater killers breeds resentment in Iraq
Move increases pressure on Mustafa al-Kadhimi to reiterate parliament’s demand for the withdrawal of all US troops
Nisour Square in Baghdad, where 14 Iraqis were killed in 2007 by Blackwater mercenaries. Photograph: Michael Kamber/The New York Times
US president Donald Trump’s pardoning of four Blackwater mercenaries for the killing of 14 Iraqis at a crowded traffic intersection in Baghdad in 2007 has deepened popular Iraqi resentment against the presence of US forces in the country.
This has increased pressure on Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to reiterate parliament’s demand for the withdrawal of all US troops.
The timing of Trump’s pardons could not have been worse. Next week Iraqis will mark the first anniversary of the US assassination in Baghdad of Qassim Suleimani, Iranian Quds force commander, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces. Both played major roles alongside the Iraqi army and US-led forces in the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq.
Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten, US army veterans, were accompanying an armoured US convoy when they shot indiscriminately with machine guns, grenade launchers and sniper rifles into Nisour Square. As this was the most egregious incident of mass murder by contractors during the US occupation of Iraq, Nisour Square became a monument to Iraqi civilian martyrs.
Following lengthy legal proceedings overseen by then vice-president Joe Biden, the first three were convicted on multiple charges of voluntary and attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 15, 14 and 12 years, while Slatten, who initiated the onslaught, was given life.
Pardons for war crimes undermine the Pentagon’s efforts to ensure that troops and contractors abide by set “rules of engagement” during foreign deployments. Since the US insists its troops cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad, these and previous pardons for war crimes could cause countries to reject the presence of US forces on their soil.
Trump also recently freed three other US soldiers who were convicted or accused of war crimes, including a junior officer who had been imprisoned for ordering his men to shoot Afghan civilians.
Blackwater mercenaries showed disregard for the lives of Iraqi civilians in April 2003, shortly after the US occupation of Iraq, by firing into a crowd and killing and wounding dozens in the town of Fallujah while they protested against the takeover of the local school by the US military.
In March 2004, Iraqi fighters killed four contractors and displayed their bodies on a bridge in Fallujah, prompting two major US offensives that wrecked the town.
Founded by former US Navy Seal Eric Prince – brother of Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos – Blackwater was banned from Iraq in 2009 and rebranded, first as Xe Services and then as Academi. It continues sign multimillion-dollar contracts to provide guards for US state department officials posted abroad.