The public anger has never faded

By Kim Sengupta, our correspondent who was in Nisur Square at the time of the attack
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The Independent Online

Sitting swathed in bandages at Baghdad’s Yarmukh Hospital, a day after he had been shot four times in the back by Blackwater guards, Hassan Jabar Salman, shook his head “This is not the first time they have killed innocent people in our country, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will be done. You’ll see.”

I was in Nisour Square on Baghdad’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ when Mr Salman and around 40 others were shot. The eruption of gunfire was sudden and ferocious, round after round mowing down terrified men women and children, slamming into cars as they collided and overturned with drivers frantically trying to escape. Some vehicles were set alight by exploding petrol tanks. A mother and her infant child died in one of them, trapped in the flames.

Even by the standards of the savage violence of Iraq at the time, the massacre at Mansour with families out in a shopping district making up most of the victims, brought a sense of profound shock . What happened had been witnessed by Iraqi policemen as they sought shelter from the bullets, American soldiers who arrived in the blood strained streets soon afterwards shook their heads in incomprehension.

There was overwhelming evidence that this was a case of unprovoked killings and it sparked one of the most bitter public disputes between the Iraqi government and its American patrons, and brings into sharp focus the often violent conduct of the Western private armies operating in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, immune from scrutiny or prosecution.

Yet, many Iraqis would agree with Mr Salman, a 42 year old lawyer, that the trigger happy guards would get away with what they had done. Amid widespread public anger Iraq revoked Blackwater’s licence to operate --- only to back-track after just three days under pressure from Washington which still employed the company to provide security for State Department staff.

But the public anger over what happened at Nisour Square did not fade. Investigations were launchd by both the US administration and the Iraqi government and a number of Blackwater guards were eventually arrested and charged in connection with the deaths and injuries. The company, mired in criticism of its conduct, even changed its name -- - to the more anonymous ‘Xe’.

The ruling which clears Blackwater will cofirm for Mr Salman and others in Iraq the belief that foreigners were above the law, that, in Western eyes, Iraqi lives did not, somehow, matter.