[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/01/29/iraq.blackwater/art.copter.afp.gi.jpg caption="Heavily armed Blackwater guards scan downtown Baghdad, Iraq, from a helicopter in 2003."]
Suzanne Kelly Simons
CNN Executive Producer, Author
It's a significant end to operations in Iraq for one of the war's most controversial private security providers. Blackwater (renamed "Xe" earlier this year) is handing over responsibility for its part of a highly-lucrative security contract to another company, Triple Canopy, though Xe won't be entirely leaving Iraq just yet.
The exodus from Iraq follows a deadly shooting in a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007. More than a dozen Iraqis were killed, and five former Blackwater contractors were charged in the United States with manslaughter. All five have pled not guilty, a sixth has pled guilty and is cooperating with investigators.
An outraged Iraqi government demanded that the company be kicked out after the shooting, but U.S. officials were able to convince them that that couldn't happen right away, arguing Washington relied heavily on the company to keep its diplomats alive, and it would take time to find a replacement to absorb the added work. But even this handover is not quite the end of all of Xe's operations in the country. Xe will continue to service an avionics task order that provides security and aviation support for diplomats. The small army of planes and helicopters it leases to the State Department offers aerial support if ground teams come under fire. But even that work is expected to evaporate once a replacement is chosen. There are only two other companies eligible to bid for that work, Triple Canopy and DynCorp and their bids were due to the government this week.
Back in the U.S., the loss of the Iraq portion of the State Department contract has had a huge impact on the North-Carolina based company. Several top executives have left, there has been a significant downsizing in the number of employees overall. The company's President Gary Jackson has stepped down and owner Erik Prince has stepped away from day to day operations. In public statements, the company has said that it always knew this part of its business would come to an end someday. Under its new name, the company will continue to provide training for military and law enforcement clients.
Many of the individual Blackwater/Xe contractors working in Iraq may not have to pack up and head home though. Triple Canopy is expected to hire many them on in order to fulfill the large number of trained bodies the contract requires.
Editor’s Note: Suzanne Simons is author of “Master of war: Blackwater’s Erik Prince and the Global Business of War.” (Collins/Harpercollins June, 2009)
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