Baghdad's mean streets just got meaner, if that's possible, thanks to the U.S. security agents protecting U.S. diplomats. Last month's decision by contract shooters with Blackwater USA to open fire in a busy intersection at midday finally tore a fraying trust between Iraqis and U.S. forces. The Sept. 16 shooting killed 11 Iraqis, including an Iraqi policeman and at least one mother and a child torched in their car by Blackwater gunmen. Eyewitnesses say the attack was unprovoked, and U.S. operatives have produced no evidence of a bomb or attack. The Iraqi government wants to blacklist Blackwater but for now is settling for a joint Pentagon-Iraq investigation.
Keep in mind, for Baghdad residents avoiding terrorists with bombs is their first priority. One Baghdad pastor told me last month that he and his wife pack pajamas in their childrens' backpacks as they head off to school. "We're never sure if it will be safe enough for them to return in the evening."
Two college students in Baghdad told me: "We have a taxi, usually about four students, from home to college. It is not safe but we know the roads that are safer than other roads, the roads where there are no checkpoints, only Iraqi soldiers and police."
Notice: They believe they are safer to take the streets without U.S. presence. They believe that in part because of the reputation earned by Blackwater, the largest private U.S. security contractor in Iraq. Retired Marine colonel Thomas X. Hammes complained of Blackwater's overly aggressive tactics after watching it operate in Baghdad-"each time they went out, they had to offend locals, forcing them to the side of the road, being overpowering and intimidating, at times running vehicles off the road, making enemies each time they went out." John F. Burns, a New York Times reporter who spends more time outside the protected Green Zone than either U.S. diplomats or their Blackwater guards, reported "undisguised disdain" among senior U.S. military officers for Blackwater's Rambo street tactics.
U.S. casualties in Iraq topped 3,800 this month, but Iraqi civilian casualties-by conservative estimates-stand at 10 times that figure, nearly 38,000. If U.S. policy is truly meant to create lasting stability and security in Iraq, then it's time to respect the sacrifices Iraqis have made, too.