The convoy of SUVs threading through Baghdad’s busy streets came to an abrupt halt at Nisour Square. Inside the vehicles were a team of black-clad security guards from the infamous Blackwater private military contractor – the American private army accused last week of embarking on a ‘crusade to eliminate Muslims’. This supposed ‘crusade’ has earned the company’s mysterious founder, Erik Prince, over $1billion for government security contracts alone. But, as we shall see, this huge pay-cheque certainly wasn’t gained without getting some hands dirty. For the Blackwater guards who stopped at Nisour Square were bristling with guns. What happened next is now the subject of a court case.
According to one observer, the American mercenaries began shooting at random into the Iraqi crowd. ‘The shooting was so heavy it was like rain,’ says Farid Walid, who was shot in the attack two years ago, a massacre which left 17 Iraqis dead. ‘I saw lots of people getting shot. The driver who had been in front of me died and his wife fell out of the car. Her child was killed as well. The shooting went on for about ten minutes.’ Umm Tahsin, widow of one of the men killed, says: ‘They [Blackwater] are a group of criminals. [It] was a massacre. They destroyed our family.’
Blackwater insists its guards returned fire against armed insurgents threatening American diplomats.
However, an Iraqi government official has claimed the U.S. security men opened fire because they were stuck in traffic, throwing stun grenades in order to clear the road. An eyewitness backs up his story. Hairdresser Suhad Mirza, 29, was working in her salon about 250m from Nisour Square when she heard sirens. ‘I went outside the shop to see a convoy of SUVs with security guards shooting randomly at people,’ she says. ‘Apparently, the guards wanted to make their way through the traffic jam made by an Iraqi army checkpoint. Minutes later, the ambulances arrived to pick up the wounded and dead.’