Cars breezed by the trimmed green hedges and flowers of Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on Friday, while pedestrians strolled past billboards of smiling men and women promoting national elections. Little trace was left of the September 2007 day when Blackwater security guards opened fire on the crowded intersection, killing 17 civilians.
On Thursday, a judge in a U.S. federal court had thrown out the criminal prosecution of five Blackwater guards involved in the shootings. The consequences of that decision were still being felt Friday by survivors of the attack, politicians and ordinary Iraqis, who expressed feelings of helplessness at the hands of the United States.
The Iraqi government vowed to seek an appeal. Victims and others said they doubted they would ever see justice, convinced the American government considers their blood cheap.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled that prosecutors of the five security guards had wrongly relied on statements the defendants made to State Department investigators under the promise of immunity. The guards, who were facing counts of manslaughter and firearms violations, maintained they opened fire in response to an attack. Iraqis dispute that.
As he waved cars past in Nisoor Square on Friday, a traffic policeman remembered that day, when he was stationed a few blocks away and could hear the sounds of gunfire.
“This brings a bad reputation to the American government and people,” said the officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter. “The Iraqi government can’t do anything. They are helpless.”
A man named Adnan walked past the policeman. He stopped in the middle of the street upon hearing about the court decision.
“The Americans have the power to do whatever they want,” said Adnan, who requested that his full name not be used because he works in the nearby high-security Green Zone, which houses government facilities. “When I hear this, I feel helpless and powerless.”
Some victims of the shooting expressed resignation, as if they had known all along the guards would walk free. Lawyer Hassan Jabbar, whose back, left lung and arm were pierced in the attack, said the court did not value Iraqis.
“This negates Iraqi blood and life,” he said by phone from his daughter’s house in Baghdad. “If the Iraqis did this with the Americans, definitely the results would be different.”
His dealings with the prosecutors had left him embittered.
“Blackwater is connected to the U.S. Embassy and secretary of State,” he said. “If an Iraqi cut off the finger of an American, they would not be satisfied until they got half the riches of Iraq.”
Jabbar said bullet fragments remain in his body, and he blamed his high blood pressure and diabetes on the shooting.
“This judicial ruling means Blackwater did nothing [wrong] in Nisoor Square,” he said.
Baraa Sadoun Ismail, also wounded in the shooting, said he still has 56 pieces of metal in his body. His voice swelled: “This is typical of American justice.”
The Nisoor Square shooting and other incidents prompted the Iraqi government to ban Blackwater, which provided security to the State Department, from working in the country. The company has since been renamed Xe Services.
Though it lost its main contract, it provided helicopter services to the State Department in Iraq for most of 2009.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said an appeal of the court decision was being pursued.
Even the U.S. military appeared to be struggling with the turn of events.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said at a news conference that he had no easy answers.
“Clearly there were innocent people killed during this attack, and that’s concerning to everyone that innocent people were killed,” he said. “And so it’s heart-wrenching when these people are killed.”
He counseled Iraqis to accept the court’s decision, which was based on technical grounds. He called it an example of the integrity of the American judiciary, however painful.
The general acknowledged concern about violent reprisals.
“What I worry about is will there be backlash against private security companies that continue to operate here,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to see that.”
Salman is a Times staff writer. Staff writer Caesar Ahmed contributed to this report.