14 April 2015, NYT: Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis
3 October 2007, NYT: From Errand to Fatal Shot to Hail of Fire to 17 Deaths
APRIL 14, 2015
Sentences in Blackwater Killings Give Iraqis a Measure of Closure
By OMAR AL-JAWOSHY and TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD -- Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer, stood in busy Nisour Square on Tuesday, waving the cars by, and pointed.
"It was there," he said, "where people were dying and bleeding without reason. Blackwater vehicles were there, and its soldiers were shooting at people without pity."
He added, "It was as if I was watching a horror movie."
Mr. Khalaf, 42, was a witness to the killings of 17 Iraqis  in the square, almost eight years ago, by guards for the private security company Blackwater, who were under contract with the State Department. On Monday, four of the guards were sentenced to long prison terms  -- one of them for life, the others for 30 years -- by a federal judge in Washington, affording Mr. Khalaf and other Iraqis whose lives were traumatized by the deadly episode a chance at closure.
"I'm very happy to hear of this verdict against those criminals who killed innocent Iraqis without mercy," Mr. Khalaf said.
The Blackwater killings joined two other high-profile atrocities, the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal and the massacre of civilians by Marines in Haditha, in destroying the credibility of the long American occupation in the eyes of Iraqis.
Nevertheless, the Iraqi news media took little notice of the convictions,  perhaps because there are so many present-day traumas to cover: the fight against the Islamic State; a car bomb that blew up Tuesday morning near a Baghdad hospital, killing five people; and a bomb in the south of the capital that killed an additional seven civilians. Some of those interviewed here on Tuesday learned of the news from the BBC and the Al Arabiya television networks.
Underscoring Iraq's seemingly never-ending traumas, the sentences were handed down at a time of renewed American military involvement in the country to fight the extremists of the Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Washington  on Tuesday to meet with President Obama, and to ask for more weapons and airstrikes against the insurgents.
But the sentences close a painful chapter for the Iraqis whose lives were upended by the tragedy.
This being Iraq, where notions of revenge and eye-for-an-eye justice run deep, many people felt the sentences were too lenient. Many, including Mr. Khalaf, the traffic police officer, said the contractors deserved to die.
Saddam Jawad, 32, who lost his mother that day, agreed. "They should have been sentenced to death," he said. Still, he added, "I was relieved when I heard of the resolution."
While the sentences may have provided a measure of justice that many Iraqis doubted would ever be done, they also revived painful memories.
"I won't forget my mother and the terrible scenes of burning, blood and dead people at the square," Mr. Jawad said. "They killed my mother, the dearest person in my life. I won't forgive them."
Firas Fadhil, 52, broke down in tears on Tuesday when he recalled the brother he had lost in the shootout. He, too, said the sentences for the contractors -- who asserted their innocence in court -- were too light.
"This is a very important resolution, but they must be murdered, as they killed our people without feeling guilty," he said. "American justice must sentence them to death. They must be sentenced to death. I lost my brother, and nothing will ever compensate me for his death."
The massacre happened on Sept. 16, 2007, when a convoy of Blackwater vehicles entered the square and security guards, believing an insurgent attack was underway, began shooting at people indiscriminately.
The episode, which occurred at the height of the American military involvement in Iraq and while the insurgency was still strong, became a dark chapter of the occupation and turned many Iraqis against the Americans. It also highlighted the heavy reliance of the United States government on security contractors, whom many Iraqis had come to loathe as cowboys operating outside the bounds of the law.
One reason the killings did such damage to the standing of the United States was the widespread belief among Iraqis that the American justice system would never hold anyone accountable.
"There was a lack of confidence between the Iraqi people and the United States administration," said Abbas al-Mussawi, a spokesman for Vice President Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who was prime minister at the time of the shootings. "I think this verdict will help restore confidence."
Abdul Amir was shot four times in the leg during that chaotic day but escaped with his life. He criticized the "slowness" of American justice, but praised the fact that there was finally a resolution.
Even so, he said, he will be scarred for life.
"They are painful memories," he said. "I always remember the spot where I was bleeding. I watch that movie in my mind every time I pass through the square."
Omar al-Jawoshy reported from Baghdad, and Tim Arango from Istanbul.