BLACKWATER UPDATE….Apparently there’s a major State-Defense bureaucratic battle brewing over the role of Blackwater contractors in Iraq:

“This is a nightmare,” said a senior U.S. military official. “We had guys who saw the aftermath [of the shootings in Nisoor Square last week], and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we’re trying to have an impact for the long term.”

….”This is a big mess that I don’t think anyone has their hands around yet,” said another U.S. military official. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don’t particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone — even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis.”

….A State Department official asked why the military is shifting the question to State “since the DOD has more Blackwater contractors than we do, including people doing PSD [personal security detail] for them….They’ve [Blackwater] basically got contracts with DOD that are larger than the contracts with State.”

There are plenty of other juicy quotes in the story too, including one from a Lt. Colonel who — if I’m reading it right — says that no one believes Blackwater’s story that it was Iraqis who fired first in the Nisoor Square incident.

In related news, David Kurtz reports that (a) the State Department has refused to allow Blackwater to testify at congressional oversight hearings, (b) Condoleezza Rice has also refused to testify, and (c) nobody else from State will testify either unless it’s done in closed session. In other words, Blackwater’s actions, just like its employees, are in a legal limbo that prevents any effective oversight from either congress or the judicial system. Nice work if you can get it.

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