‘Cheaper than water’: Iraqis angry but unsurprised over Blackwater pardons

‘Cheaper than water’: Iraqis angry but unsurprised over Blackwater pardons
An Iraqi man rides a bicycle passing by a remains of a car, burnt after Blackwater guards escorting US embassy officials opened fire in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2020

‘Cheaper than water’: Iraqis angry but unsurprised over Blackwater pardons

‘Cheaper than water’: Iraqis angry but unsurprised over Blackwater pardons
  • The Blackwater team, contracted to provide security for US diplomats in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003, claimed they were responding to insurgent fire
  • The bloody episode left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead and 17 wounded

BAGHDAD: Iraqis on Wednesday were outraged, heartbroken but not surprised to hear US President Donald Trump had pardoned for four Blackwater contractors convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
“I lost hope a long time ago,” said Fares Saadi, the Iraqi police officer who led the investigations into the shootings at Baghdad’s crowded Nisur Square.
The Blackwater team, contracted to provide security for US diplomats in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003, claimed they were responding to insurgent fire.
The bloody episode left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead and 17 wounded, many of whom Saadi remembered taking to the hospital himself.
“Thirteen years, you said? My God. I remember it like it was yesterday,” he told AFP by telephone in Baghdad.
“It was random fire, 360 degrees. I picked up people, drove them to the hospital, took statements,” he said.
Saadi was the lead Iraqi police investigator into the incident, coordinating with FBI teams sent to Baghdad and even providing witness testimony in US trials.
Three of the guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were initially convicted of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and a firearm offense, and sentenced to 30 years each.
A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, was determined to have fired the first shots and was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Slatten was retried and sentenced in August 2019 to life in prison. The following month, Slough, Liberty and Heard had their sentences reduced by half or more.
“I was following carefully the whole time. It was a gradual reduction — I knew we’d never get justice,” Saadi said.
Iraq’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it would ask Washington to “review the decision,” which it described as “inconsistent with the US administration’s declared commitment to the values of human rights, justice and the rule of law.”
Kataeb Hezbollah, a hard-line Iraqi armed group backed by Iran, said the US was “deluding itself into thinking our people would forget these crimes.”
The pardon came just a few weeks after the International Criminal Court shut down a preliminary probe into alleged war crimes by British troops in Iraq after the invasion.
The ICC prosecutor had said in 2017 that there was “reasonable basis” for believing British soldiers had committed such crimes.
But she said this month she could not find proof Britain had shielded suspects from prosecution.
Ali Bayati of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission said the back-to-back decisions showed there was little respect for human rights abroad.
“The latest decision confirms these countries’ violations of human rights and international law,” he told AFP.
“They grant immunity to their soldiers even as they claim to protect human rights.”
Baghdad was gripped by bloody sectarian warfare in 2007, and there was no local trial over the September 16 deaths in Nisur Square.
Following the shootings, Iraq announced it would not renew Blackwater’s operating license and the US State Department did not renew its contract there with the firm.
Blackwater changed its name several times, eventually becoming Academi and merging with other firms to form the Constellis Group.
One of Constellis’s smaller firms, Olive Group, is currently operating in Iraq.
“It was a charade of a trial, then they get released and it’s all over,” said Mohammed Al-Shahmani, a Baghdad resident.
“The US president just proved that they occupied this country, not liberated it.”
The US trial found none of the 14 people killed in Nisur Square was armed. Many were in their vehicles, which had been sprayed with machine-gun fire.
At least one child died.
All but one of the victims’ families accepted compensation from Blackwater, a lawyer wounded in the attack told AFP previously.
Those hurt received up to $50,000, while the relatives of those killed were offered $100,000.
Haitham Al-Rubaie, who lost his son Ahmad and wife Mahasin, was the only one to turn down the offers.
Ahmad was a 20-year-old medical student, a former classmate said on Wednesday.
“All of us at school were devastated and heartbroken,” said the classmate, who asked for her name to be withheld so she could speak freely.
“Times were really tough... and to hear that he and his mom were both murdered added to our sense of desperation.”
She said she expected Ahmad would have been a successful physician — like his mother — had he lived.
“It is an utter outrage, but it is also not surprising by any means. The Americans have never approached us Iraqis as equals,” the former classmate said.
“As far as they are concerned, our blood is cheaper than water and our demands for justice and accountability are merely a nuisance.”


UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
Updated 9 min 35 sec ago

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
  • The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday
  • The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters

TRIPOLI: The advance team of a UN observer mission has arrived in Libya, which after a decade of conflict and chaos plans to hold elections in December, informed sources said Wednesday.
The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, they said, to monitor a cease-fire between the country’s two rival armed factions.
The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters who have been deployed in the oil-rich North African country and have so far shown no sign of leaving.
Libya was thrown into years of violent turmoil after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and led to the killing of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The country has been split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital and backed by Turkey, and an administration in the east supported by strongman Kalifa Haftar, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The two sides reached a cease-fire in October, and UN-led talks since resulted in a new temporary administration elected in February, led by interim prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
A diplomatic source in Tunis said the advance team, made up from the UN mission in Libya and experts from UN headquarters in New York, arrived Tuesday via the neighboring country’s capital Tunis.
On its five-week mission it is to travel to Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast halfway between the eastern and western power centers, as well as to Misrata in the west and Benghazi in the east.
A diplomatic source in New York said the team is due to submit a report to the UN Security Council on March 19 on the cease-fire and the departure of foreign troops.
According to the UN, some 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters were still in Libya in early December. A January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any signs of them pulling out.
The Security Council in early February ordered UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deploy the vanguard of observers in Libya, following the October 23 cease-fire deal.
In a report late last year, Guterres himself had advocated an unarmed observer group be made up of civilians and retired military personnel from African Union, European Union and Arab League member states.


Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow
Updated 24 min 12 sec ago

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

ANKARA: Turkey and Egypt could negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement in the eastern Mediterranean if their ties, which have been strained, allow for such a move, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Last month, Egypt announced the start of a bid round for oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation in 24 blocks including some in the Mediterranean.
Speaking at a news conference with his Georgian counterpart in Ankara, Cavusoglu said Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf and that Ankara viewed this positively. 


UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 42 min 16 sec ago

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
  • The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463

DUBAI: The UAE confirmed 2,692 new coronavirus cases and 16 deaths on Wednesday as the Emirates continues to expand its testing of citizens and residents for the early detection of the highly contagious disease.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463, with a total of 1,269 fatalities related to coronavirus.

Health officials have conducted 218,351 additional COVID-19 tests overnight, state news agency WAM said, with the total number of tests now over 31 million.

The UAE leads the world in terms of conducting coronavirus tests relative to the size of population, with infection rates compared to the total tests being among the lowest in the region and the entire world, WAM earlier said.

It is also tops the global tally on COVID-19 vaccinations after implementing a vaccination campaign to for residents and citizens to achieve mass immunity. More than six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been provided and 3,614,070 people have been vaccinated to date, which accounts for 46.61 percent of the target population.


Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack
Updated 03 March 2021

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Wednesday he still expected to make his historic visit to Iraq in two days time, after a rocket attack on a military base hosting US-led coalition troops.
"The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much," the 84-year-old Francis said in his weekly Wednesday address.
The Argentine pontiff asked for prayers for the trip, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, through which he hopes to encourage the dwindling Christian community to remain in their ancient homeland while broadening his outreach to Islam.
"I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers so that it may take place in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits," the pope said.
He added: "The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they were waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful."
At least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops earlier on Wednesday, security sources said, leaving one civilian contractor dead.
The attack on the sprawling Ain al-Assad base in Iraq's western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Francis said the pope would be travelling by armoured vehicle and that he would not be meeting crowds.
"This is a particular situation, that's why the transports will all be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be complicated to see the pope on the streets," spokesman Matteo Brunei said.
"There will be a number of meetings but none will be more than a few hundred people," he said.


New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir
Updated 03 March 2021

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

DUBAI: Kuwait Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah called on the executive and legislative authorities in his country to cooperate as a new government took oath before him, according to state-run news agency KUNA. 

Sheikh Nawaf received at his Bayan Palace the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah to swear-in as head of cabinet.
Ministers of the new government were also sworn in.

The previous government had resigned in January.
Oil Minister Mohammad Abdulatif Al-Fares, Finance Minister Khalifa Hamade and Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah were reappointed in the new cabinet.