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Jeremy Scahill, 'Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army'
The privatisation of so much of the US military machine has been more than just a subplot of the Iraq war, and Jeremy Scahill's comprehensive study of the rise of mercenary company Blackwater is a useful guide to the reconfigured military-industrial complex the anti-war movement now faces.
Blackwater was founded by Christian conservative Erik Prince in 1997 to meet the “anticipated demand for outsourcing” in the US military.
From a relatively low-key initial training role, it has grown to a 20,000-strong mercenary army under the Bush Administration, whose goal of full-spectrum dominance it seeks to complement with a full spectrum of military services.
Scahill shows how increased public scrutiny of military operations and the neoliberal myth of private sector superiority has led to the second largest military force in Iraq being not the British army, but the army of soldiers-for-hire that keeps the occupation running.
But while the Pentagon gets plausible deniability from the arrangement, the operation of armies like Blackwater's outside even the flimsy legal limits of conventional warfare has serious consequences, undermining the occupiers' stated aim of bringing increased security - witness the shooting dead of 11 Iraqis by Blackwater forces in Baghdad in September this year.
It is an earlier incident involving Blackwater employees, however, the ambushing and killing of four “contractors” in Fallujah in March 2004, that forms the centrepiece of Scahill's book, with the resulting April onslaught on Fallujah - “they can't do that to Americans” - igniting the insurgency that continues today.
At 380 pages (without the notes and index) Blackwater is perhaps a little long - readers looking for a basic overview may prefer War on Want's recent Corporate Mercenaries report - but its range is far greater than just the company of the title, and it contains vital insights into both the continuing disaster in Iraq and the shape of wars to come.