Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Iraq, the unraveling (XXV): Smackdown in the Green Zone

This is an e-mail that is circulating about a recent confrontation in Baghdad between non-Iraqi bodyguards and Iraqi security forces. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I am told by a second party that it came from someone he trusts and is accurate. If this is a portent of things to come, Iraq ...


This is an e-mail that is circulating about a recent confrontation in Baghdad between non-Iraqi bodyguards and Iraqi security forces. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I am told by a second party that it came from someone he trusts and is accurate.

If this is a portent of things to come, Iraq is gonna get mighty interesting real fast. Bodyguards may have to put up with this sort of treatment, but I don’t think U.S. military would stand for it.

Subject: Here’s what’s circulating regarding PSD incident

The Entry Control Points (ECP) into the International Zone (IZ) have been increasingly difficult to deal with. It is nothing that is intolerable. However, in an increasing basis Protective Security Detail (PSD) teams have been instructed to exit vehicles for search, download weapons and such. That is okay, because after all, Iraq, like it or not, is its own country and sets the ground rules.

Well, a few days ago the antics were ratcheted up again. As a team was entering ECP4 (old CP12) the last vehicle of the motorcade was stopped, which is not uncommon. This time though, the vehicles crew was harassed to give over smoke grenades. Lately IA’s/IP’s have been asking PSD teams for everything from water, to ammunition, to money. In following the guidance from the Department of State (DOS), Regional Security Officer (RSO), the vehicle commander of the vehicle attempted to find out the name of the Iraqi in charge of the ECP.

(Read on)

He did this, but by all reports went about it in the wrong manner, which in no way reflects on the rest of the team who are true professionals. However, he raised his voice towards the Captain and was generally less than polite. He was told by the Captain to get back in the truck and move on. After another warning to leave, he returned to the truck and being the idiot he is, tried to sneak a photo of the Captain. This not so bright idea wasn’t well received. The IA Captain saw the camera, and, with the windows down because the crew was answering questions, reached in and grabbed the camera.

This is where the wheels fell off and the incident began to spiral out of control for the PSD members who quickly put up their windows and lock the doors. This in turn causes the Iraqi soldiers present to start beating on the doors of the now buttoned up Suburban. As the Suburban moves forward the T72 Tank that sits at the halfway point in the ECP turns it DSHK Heavy Machine-gun towards the Sub, and pulls out in front of it blocking its exit. As a result, the Suburban and its crew stop.

Apparently, while this was going on the IA Captain put out a net call to his counterparts that an American assaulted him. The story he related was that the PSD member in the rear seat, the medic, took a photo of him and when he, the Captain took the camera away, the medic punched him, which didn’t happen. Because of this report, more Iraqis show up and began beating on the Suburban with their rifles.

At around this time, the Tactical Commander (TC) from the lead vehicle showed up and approached the Captain in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. The Captain promptly drew his pistol, pointed it at the TC and fired 2 rounds over the TCs head. The TC, without missing a beat says, “Habibi” and reaches his hand out to shake the officers, who unable to shake hands due to having a pistol in it, holsters his sidearm and shakes hands. The TC then talks down the situation; the tank rolls back into its normal position and people begin to chill out.

Well just as everything starts to look okay for the PSD members an Iraqi Colonel shows up. Accompanying the Colonel are 5 – 6 vehicles full of Iraqi Army personnel with DSHK’s. In addition, Iraqis were swarming down the street in large numbers loading AKs and strapping on body armor as they arrived.

The Colonel, believing the Americans had assaulted one of his men was more than excited. Not listening to anything anyone else had to say, he demanded the PSD open the vehicle and surrender, which the team, seeing the seriousness of the situation refused to do. The Colonel, realizing he was getting nowhere with the team in the Suburban ordered the tank crew to run over the Suburban. The tank then started up its engines again and promptly rumbles out into the road for a second time.

Luckily for the PSD members the tank driver wasn’t very good at his job, so it took him some time to try and line up for the drive over Suburban smashing. As he was lining up, the PSD crew, understandably fearing for their lives, decided to try and drive out again. However, as the driver put the vehicle into gear, the automatic door locks on the front doors popped, the doors unlocked, and the Iraqis had them open in a flash.

The Iraqis still mistakenly believing the medic had assaulted one of their own focused on him in the rear seat. However the rear doors were still locked and they were unable to get to him. The Colonels solution was to stick his pistol to the head of the Suburban’s driver. Seeing this, the medic decided he didn’t want his team member shot on his behalf, so he opened the vehicle and exited, at which time the swarm of Iraqis began beating him with fists, feet and rifles. The same pretty much happened with the rest of the crew; they were all jerked form the vehicle and promptly flex cuffed and beaten.

While this was going on, due to the firepower and sheer numbers of Iraqi Army present (about 80 at this time), our QRF team who was on scene was unable to do anything more than video the incident as best they could and try to keep an accounting of the team members being beat down. Had they tried to intercede more than they did, the situation could have easily escalated into a full-blown shoot out, in which all PSD members and many Iraqis would have most likely been killed. One member of the QRF did cautiously approach and he was quickly cuffed and beaten.

Somewhere as the beatings were happening, the military showed up on the scene in the form of the useless IZ police. Rather than calling for reinforcements, or senior leadership word from those on the ground was that the IZ police said something to the effect of “You’re contractors, you’re on your own” and left. An Army convoy pulled out of FOB Prosperity located next to the incident and drove by leaving the contractors to the Iraqi mob. Two army Majors, or Lt, Colonels, did try to get involved and were promptly pushed around by the Iraqis.

The Blue Force Tracker, our emergency beacon, was activated early in the incident sending out a distress call. From reports, other contracting companies in the area were ready to help. However, help of an armed sort was not needed at this time. What was needed was diplomacy and someone who could bring diplomatic sense to bear. Unfortunately, the US Department of State RSO decided, because we are only a Department of State contractors and not a DOS Chief of Mission contract that we were on our own. So he didn’t lift a finger. As a matter of fact, DOS took the radios we had, which enabled us to speak with the RSO TOC in the case of an emergency, and the RSO has severed all ties with our program, even during times of distress.

Eventually, after physically beating the PSD members, the Iraqis loaded them into their vehicles, putting one in the truck/boot of the vehicle. They then drove away to an Iraqi base in the IZ with an Iraqi sitting on the hood waving his arms up and down, screaming a victory cry as they traveled through the IZ.

At the Iraqi base, the team members were split up and beat some more.Some of the PSD members were beaten with weight bars from the Iraqi gym. The Medic was beaten so bad that he was covered in blood and began projectile vomiting from the head injuries he was receiving. One person beating him was an Iraqi General who repeatedly punched him with his Madhi ring encrusted hand.

Eventually, the powers to be arrived and met with the very General who had been beating the Medic. They worked things out and secured their release. The freed men were transported to the Army Combat Surgical Hospital (CSH) at Victory Base for evaluation. All were released and doing well considering the possibilities. The medic suffered from a concussion and possibly other injuries, which may have to be treated in the US.

ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images 


Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1