Foreign Policy: What do you make of the $136 million request by the Nuri al-Maliki government to compensate the victims of the Sept. 16 Blackwater shooting?
Peter Singer: I don’t think it will be anywhere near that amount at the end of the day. This seems to be part of a broader effort to ramp up the pressure on not merely the company but also on the U.S. government. The monetary figure was less important than their announcement that, based on the fact that the company had not registered since 2006, it and its employees did not have any sort of immunity to Iraqi courts and that the Iraqi judicial system wanted to go after them.
FP: Do you think this incident is a microcosm of some of the problems the Iraqi government is having in establishing effective institutions?
PS: Well, you can look at this entire episode as a microcosm of what’s going wrong on both the Iraqi government’s side as well as the U.S. side. On one hand, you have an Iraqi [interior] ministry that’s considered fairly corrupt and fairly inept. On the flip side, you have an American mission that is so hollowed out that it’s reliant on forces outside the chain of command to carry out its operations. Our surge strategy has two elements to it: One, to restore stability and security to give the Iraqi government breathing space, and two, to press that government on its political benchmarks. This episode shows the hollowness of both efforts. On the military side of things, the same week that Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker are testifying to Congress about the progress made and President Bush makes a speech about how there’s a return to a sense of normalcy in Baghdad, you have 43 people shot by private military contractors in Baghdad alone; that kind of undercuts [their argument]. Then you get to the political side. Top of the agenda is no longer, “Prime minister, how can you solve this sectarian violence so we can get our troops out of there?” It’s Blackwater.
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[Stabilization is] difficult to do in Iraq and especially Syria because no one wants the U.S. to put lots of forces on the ground to be doing that and locals will struggle to do it well.