Iraq Learned the Ray Davis Lesson from Pakistan

Before I point out an (IMO) overlooked detail from the NYT story describing how contractors in Iraq are being “harassed,” let me first draw attention to what NYT has hidden in paragraph 8:

Private contractors are integral to postwar Iraq’s economic development and security, foreign businessmen and American officials say, but they remain a powerful symbol of American might, with some Iraqis accusing them of running roughshod over the country. [my emphasis]

I suppose NYT felt the need to offer an innocuous explanation for the presence of so many contractors. But when you realize who is offering that explanation, the attempt to normalize the contractors doesn’t seem so innocuous anymore.

Which leads me to the detail that most struck me.

Iraqi authorities have detained a few hundred foreign contractors in recent weeks, industry officials say, including many Americans who work for the United States Embassy, in one of the first major signs of the Iraqi government’s asserting its sovereignty after the American troop withdrawal last month.

The detentions have occurred largely at the airport in Baghdad and at checkpoints around the capital after the Iraqi authorities raised questions about the contractors’ documents, including visas, weapons permits and authorizations to drive certain routes. Although no formal charges have been filed, the detentions have lasted from a few hours to nearly three weeks. [my emphasis]

You see, it’s not just that Iraq has created the TSA identity check from hell for the contractors at the Baghdad Airport. It’s not just that Iraq wants to keep track of who’s packing what. Iraq also has certain routes they’re restricting access to without appropriate paperwork, thereby limiting access to those areas for anyone not willing to go without a contractor protecting them or at least sufficient notice to get paperwork.

That kind of location-based “harassment” seems to be behind the most extreme case described, in which Iraq stopped a 10-car convoy–of the 15 contractors involved, 12 were Iraqi–on its way from south of Baghdad north of the city.

Last month, two Americans, a Fijian and 12 Iraqis employed by Triple Canopy, a private security company, were detained for 18 days after their 10-vehicle convoy from Kalsu, south of Baghdad, to Taji, north of the capital, was stopped for what Iraqi officials said was improper paperwork.

One of the Americans, Alex Antiohos, 32, a former Army Green Beret medic from North Babylon, N.Y., who served in the Iraq war, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he and his colleagues were kept at an Iraqi army camp, fed insect-infested plates of rice and fish, forced to sleep in a former jail, and though not physically mistreated were verbally threatened by an Iraqi general who visited them periodically. “At times, I feared for my safety,” Mr. Antiohos said.

It’s not clear whether this will continue. An anonymous DOD source quoted in the story suggests the tension reflects a period of adjustment. But to the extent it does continue, it does more than just push around the contractors who have been pushing around Iraqis for 8 years.

It also means that outside businessmen stay away from certain places. It makes it less likely that American intelligence officers will seek out certain parts of the country. That may–as NYT’s apologists suggest–hinder Iraq’s development. It may permit Nuri al-Maliki to assert control of the country in some very unsavory ways.

But this seems more than “asserting sovereignty,” like a teenage kid with a new drivers license. Iraq seems to be imposing specific restrictions that may restrict the plans we’ve got for Iraq going forward.

15 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:

    I think they understood well what happened in Pakistan.

    I may not be the first to say this, but thank goodness somebody is putting a check on contractors. Our own State Department and Pentagon hasn’t and they have shown no oversight. It’s fine to them because they are not spending their own money, just the money of Americans and future generations.

  2. orionATL says:

    “At times, I feared for my safety,” Mr. Antiohos (was told to say).”

    “to be frank”, he continued, “i was quite surprised. normally, i rarely if ever fear for my safety while working here. the shopkeepers, barkeepers, and whores are very friendly and welcoming, as is everyone i obliquely point my gun at.”

  3. A Hermit says:

    “Iraq seems to be imposing specific restrictions that may restrict the plans we’ve got for Iraq going forward…”

    Does it never occur to Americans that people in other countries might have their own plans for THEIR country?

  4. Bob Schacht says:

    Like all imperialists, we want Iraq to remain a nice subservient colony that will accept our stay-behinds. It doesn’t work. At least, not for long. Maliki is thinking, if we must have goons, they must be OUR goons.

    Notice that the contractors were not their goons, but in the employ of foreigners, even if they were Iraqis.

    Bob in AZ

  5. rugger9 says:

    After the s(*^%^t we blasted them with over the last decade [almost] we’re lucky not to be shot on sight.

    Accountability can be a bitch, now that the Marines aren’t going to strike back like they did in Fallujah to send a message regarding our contractors.

  6. Jamie says:

    What with President Johnson practicing escalatio on the Vietnamese and then the Dominican crisis on top of that it has been a nervous year and people have begun to feel like a Christian scientist with appendicitis. Fortunately in times of crisis just like this America always has this number one instrument of diplomacy to fall back on. Here’s a song about it.

    When someone makes a move
    Of which we don’t approve,
    Who is it that always intervenes?
    U.N. and O.A.S.,
    They have their place, I guess,
    But first send the Marines!

    We’ll send them all we’ve got,
    John Wayne and Randolph Scott,
    Remember those exciting fighting scenes?
    To the shores of Tripoli,
    But not to Mississippoli,

    What do we do? We send the Marines!
    For might makes right,
    And till they’ve seen the light,
    They’ve got to be protected,
    All their rights respected,
    ‘Till somebody we like can be elected.

    Members of the corps
    All hate the thought of war,
    They’d rather kill them off by peaceful means.
    Stop calling it aggression,
    O we hate that expression.
    We only want the world to know
    That we support the status quo.
    They love us everywhere we go,
    So when in doubt,
    Send the Marines!

  7. scribe says:

    This is not dissimilar from the way we treated diplomats from various countries during the Cold War (and probably continue to do so). (Though we didn’t treat them as roughly when they broke the rules – we just kicked them out.) It was applied with especial rigor to people from the former Warsaw Pact. People assigned to various diplomatic missions – both in DC and at the UN – were forbidden to enter certain counties. In effect, the USG divided the country into cells, partitioned by contiguous lines of counties, which precluded these diplomatic people from visiting places like the missile fields of the Dakotas, navy yards, pipeline centers, and you name it. Moreover, these folks were forbidden from travelling more than a certain distance (25 or 50 miles – I forget which) from their mission without advance permission. This meant that certain malls and tourist attractions lay invitingly just over the line. This restriction also facilitated keeping fewer places under surveillance (there are always limited resources) for use as dead drops and such.

    So, as an exercise of sovreignity, this is no big deal. The contractors had better get used to it. Walling off parts of your country from those you permit into it on their official business is neither novel nor exceptional, though to the believers in American Exceptionalism, it has to sting.


  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When “private contractors” [mercenaries] are “integral” to a state’s economic development, that would be state is doomed to failure. Here’s hoping that the “foreign businessmen and American officials” who said that are aspiring to a role they don’t and won’t have. If those “officials” point to the United States to prove their point, they will have proven mine.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The mercenaries dream may be to have everyone drive round with as much immune-to-the-law protection as Dick Cheney. The irony is that Mr. Cheney merits such protection for one of two reasons: because it’s an invention to salve his ego, or because he needs it to avoid the logical consequences of his past behavior. Regardless, it is not a normal or sustainable state of affairs, any more than it would be for all the world’s drivers to drive a Hummer.

  10. Snarki, child of Loki says:


    n effect, the USG divided the country into cells, partitioned by contiguous lines of counties, which precluded these diplomatic people from visiting places like the missile fields of the Dakotas, navy yards, pipeline centers, and you name it.

    Most famously, Disneyland.

    Heaven forbid that the soviets discover the ABM base located in Tomorrowland, right next to the submarine ride.

  11. rugger9 says:

    Why anyone thinks that mercs could be remotely cost effective relative to the Army hasn’t looked at the pay scales.

    This is corporate welfare to build a private army. Only the Duke of Atholl has one, as permitted by the Queen.

  12. P J Evans says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki:
    Well, they didn’t want them to find out that those weren’t really nuclear subs, either.
    Of course, getting there would probably remove any desire for further visits: I-5 between downtown LA and Anaheim has a fairly permanent traffic jam, for no reason other than too much traffic for the road available.

  13. Acharn says:

    @rugger9: I’ve been reading Jack London’s “The Iron Heel,” available on-line at Project Gutenberg. The language is dated, but the concerns of the protagonists are eerily familiar — they are anticipating the imminent establishment of The Oligarchy, with it’s enforcement arm, The Mercenaries. In the story, The Mercenaries are the logical development of the Pinkertons, since the Regular Army might not be trustworthy in establishing The Oligarchy. However an important development was the passage of The Militia Act of 1903. We look back on it as a reform, which was successful in the mobilization for World War I, but at the time it seemed like a very ominous development. The Act made every able-bodied citizen a member of the militia, who could be called to active duty at any time, and could then be court-martialed for any refusal to follow orders. We don’t have that particular Act any more, but how many people pay attention to the development of North American Command, in Denver? The new combined forces command that has, as part of its mission, “to assist civil authorities in maintaining order.” As in rounding up and detaining Occupiers? NDAA anyone? In other ways the book was a chilling prediction of the development of fascism. The hero’s effort to establish Socialism seems very out-of-date now, but basically the grievances of the working class are now only slightly less than back in 1912.

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