Iraqi parliamentarians have called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to scrap contracts with a US company over alleged connections to the controversial security contractor Blackwater.
The head of parliament’s security and defence committee said on Tuesday that Abadi would soon attend a debate in parliament about the security firm hired to secure roads connecting Iraq and Jordan.
“The committee has demanded the cancellation of recently signed contracts with security contractors – US-based or not – and called for dependence on the Iraqi security forces instead,” Majid al-Gharawi, told lawmakers.
“In the coming days, Abadi will come to discuss the return of Blackwater to Iraq under another name,” he added.
Sources inside parliament told The New Arab that 52 MPs signed a petition demanding an investigation be opened into contracts with Blackwater-linked security firm, Olive Group.
They said that the inquiry will be based on a report published this week by The New Arab‘s Arabic-language sister site that exposed government dealings with the Emirati-based private security firm.
Four former Blackwater employees were convicted in 2014 on an array of charges ranging from first degree murder to voluntary manslaughter stemming their roles in a 2007 mass shooting in Iraq that left at least 17 civilians dead.
The incident in Baghdad’s al-Nisour Square deepened Iraqi resentment of the US’ invasion of the country and led to Iraqi authorities expelling the firm after its contracts ended.
The lengthy expose published on Saturday on Olive Group, accusing it of having links to Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
In a statement to The New Arab, an Olive Group spokesman said on Wednesday that the company had no affiliation with Blackwater and that the accusations were “categorically false”.
“Olive Group was recently selected to help deliver the Anbar Road project in combination with two Iraq companies and regional partners. The focus is to provide economic growth by establishing a critical border crossing into Jordan and a lifeline to provide goods and services into Iraq,” the statement said.
Olive Group has been contracted to Iraq to repair roads and bridges, build rest areas, gas stations and oversee security along the roads connecting the Trebil bordering crossing.
Former Olive Group employee Nabil Shaddad told The New Arab that the firm was the “Emirati version of Blackwater”.
“Blackwater has returned to work in the Middle East through two companies, Olive Group and R2 (Reflex Responses), which operate out of Abu Dhabi and conduct strategic operations in the region,” Shaddad, a US citizen of Lebanese origins, said.
“Olive group is the spiritual successor to Blackwater,” he added.
According to a leaked report from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, Olive Group “deceived” Iraqi authorities last April when applying for the contract to secure the Amman-Baghdad road by applying as a US security company based in Abu Dhabi.
The Iraqi officer, who leaked excerpts of the report to The New Arab, said employees of the company were involved in “unethical operations” that served the UAE’s interests in the Arab world.
A 2011 report in The New York Times revealed that Erik Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince to form a mercenary army that would be used to suppress Arab Spring popular uprisings.
Prince, a former US Navy SEAL officer, founded Blackwater in 1997 but later changed the name to Xe Services LLC after it named was tarnished by the deadly 2007 shootout.
In 2010, Prince sold the company to Forte Capital Advisers and Manhattan Strategic Ventures, who renamed the business ACADEMI.
In 2014, the conglomerate took another step to distance themselves from the Blackwater name by merging the company with another private security firm called Triple Canopy to form Constellis Holdings.
The company expanded further in 2015 by buying Olive Group.