Paramilitary: June 14, 2005
Armed civilian security contractors, already unpopular with Iraqi police, recently tangled with American marines, and came out second best. In Fallujah, a convoy of vehicles, carrying 16 American employees of Zapata Engineering, and three Iraqi translators, were stopped by marines near Fallujah. The Zapata convoy was first reported to have fired at some Iraqi civilians, and a little later, marines in an observation said someone in the Zapata convoy fired at them. A mobile marine unit was notified, and the Zapata convoy was stopped, and the 19 people in it were arrested. The Zapata employees said that they had just fired warning shots at Iraqi vehicles that got too close to them. This is a standard practice, but the bullets have to go somewhere. Sometimes the warning shots hit people, or come close to doing so. Thats what may have happened here. The contractors complained of verbal abuse from some of the marines, who commented on the high pay the contractors receive. Two of the contractors were former marines, which apparently did not spare them from the verbal jibes.
While several suicide car bomber attacks are made each day in Iraq, and even more attacks by gunmen in cars, the biggest danger on Iraqi highways remains the reckless driving habits of Iraqis. Foreign workers know that a little gun fire can warn away aggressive Iraqi drivers, as well as truly suicidal terrorists.
This was believed to be the first time marines had arrested civilian contractors. However, Iraqi police have had similar run-ins with these armed civilians as well. The problem is that the country is awash with weapons, so many that each family is legally entitled to hold one assault rifle or other firearm. Many households have several weapons, and, in a popular Middle Eastern custom, these will be fired into the air during celebrations. Hundreds of people are killed or injured each year when these bullets return to earth. This, however, has not stopped the people of Iraq, or any other Middle Eastern country, from continuing this practice. However, allowing armed foreigners to freely fire warning shots is gradually coming to an end. Theres more enthusiasm for this than for disarming all Iraqis. The civilian contractors will protest, and some may be withdrawn, but the change will come.