Response, Arab and American, to the NYT’s Blackwater Story

Among the questions prompted by the New York Times’s latest national-security scoop—this one alleging that executives at the private security firm Blackwater approved a plan to bribe Iraqi officials in the wake of a 2007 episode in which the company’s guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians—one of the most interesting is this: How will the report play out in Iraqi politics and Arab media?

So far, the response seems to have been muted. The English-language Web sites of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya offer fairly straightforward rewrites of the NYT article, and the story is not featured on Al Jazeera’s home page. I don’t read Arabic, but a journalist friend who does, and who surveyed the relevant sites, said that as of a few hours ago, “it looks like so far, almost all the stories are going off the NYT—no analysis or opinion yet.” She added that at that point many of the major Arab-language publications, including the Arabic version of Al-Jazeera, hadn’t weighed in yet. (A Google News search for Arab-language coverage is here.)

Still, there was an early sign that this story may resonate in Iraq. Al Arabiya’s Arab-language story quoted an opposition politician saying, of the alleged bribe-takers, “We know who they are, and their parties are in power.” With Iraqi elections on the horizon, this angle may bear watching.

In terms of what the story means here, Cofer Black, a CIA veteran who was at the time serving as Blackwater’s vice chairman, has disputed a key element of the story. The NYT reported that when Black learned of the plan, he “confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting.” But according to a statement provided to a number of outlets, Black now says, “I never confronted Erik Prince or any other Blackwater official regarding any allegations of bribing Iraqi officials and was unaware of any plot or guidance for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials.” Black didn’t respond to the NYT’s earlier requests for comment; it will be interesting to see how the paper responds to his denial.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.