By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 18, 2007 - Multinational Force Iraq and private security contractors too often are working at cross purposes, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Pentagon reporters today. Gates said he supports a plan that would consolidate authority over contractors in Iraq, conceivably under the Defense Department. "I think it is important that we have the means and the mechanisms to ensure that we know what's going on and that these activities are coordinated and are known to MNFI," he said.
He noted the broad mission being carried out by Multinational Force Iraq and the U.S. embassy staff in Iraq. It includes getting the security situation under control, training and equipping Iraqi security forces, garnering more Iraqi support for the Iraqi government, and helping more Iraqis "see the coalition forces as their friends and their allies with whom they want to cooperate."
Private security contractors, in contrast, have the sole mission to safely deliver the principal they are protecting from one place to another, Gates said.
"As I see it, right now those missions are in conflict, because in the objective of completing the mission of delivering a principal safely to a destination -- just based on everything I've read and what our own team has reported -- there have been instances where, to put it mildly, the Iraqis have been offended and not treated properly," Gates said.
These actions "work at cross purposes to our larger mission in Iraq," he said. Gates said he plans to sit down with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "see how we reconcile those missions and bring it together."
Gates offered his comments as Iraq is pressuring the United States to pull all Blackwater USA security contractors out of Iraq following a Sept. 16 shooting that killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
Blackwater officials said the contractors who fired the shots were responding to a hostile threat. The Iraqis say the shooting was unprovoked and have demanded that Blackwater pay $8 million to each victim's family. An investigation over the
Both the Defense and State Department have conducted their own independent assessments of the best way to resolve the problem. "We've done our look independently. As far as I know, there's no conflict between the two departments at this point," Gates said. "But I'll sit down with Secretary Rice, and we'll see how we can work this out to achieve the objectives that I described at the outset."
Gates said the United States could continue its mission in Iraq without security contractors, but only by committing more troops to the effort.
"It would require an enormous commitment of American troops to the security mission ... -- to assuring the security of our diplomats and civilians working in Baghdad and in the rest of Iraq, as opposed to working the security situation for Iraq more broadly," he said.