Iowa City Press Citizen - Obama Outlines Policy on Private Security in Iraq
By Kathryn Fiegen
Security contractors working in Iraq need to be held accountable to the law just as military forces are, Sen. Barack Obama said Wednesday at a town hall meeting in the Iowa Memorial Union.
Obama spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Iowa City talking about his foreign policy platform in his quest to be the next president of the United States.
On Wednesday, he announced to a group of about 900 that he had created a plan to force security contractors to follow the law overseas, which includes creating a special unit in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to enforce it.
Obama was responding to a Sept. 16 incident where a group of Blackwater USA contractors were involved in two separate shooting incidents. One involved a group of Iraqi police, and the other killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians. Both occurred on and near Nisoor Square in Baghdad.
"We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors," Obama said. "To add insult to injury, these contractors are charging taxpayers up to nine times more to do the same jobs as soldiers, a disparity that damages troop morale."
Obama said he authored an amendment to a bill that passed last week in the Senate that would force the Bush administration to describe the size and scope of private security contractors' work in Iraq.
"I've also proposed tougher government reform than any other candidate in this race -- reforms that would eliminate the kind of no-bid contracts that this administration has given to Blackwater," he said.
Obama also talked Wednesday about his larger plan for Iraq. His trip to Iowa comes exactly five years after he publicly announced his opposition to the war in Iraq, and his speech reiterated his opposition and his plan for the country to get out.
"If we are going to turn this page, the first thing we need to do is end this war," he said.
To do that, he said he would immediately start removing one to two brigades a month. Within 16 months, Obama said, the only troops left would be protecting the United States' embassy, diplomats and humanitarian efforts.
Diplomatic and humanitarian efforts must be stepped up in the absence of military occupation, Obama said. He said the United States needs to address the needs of Iraqi refugees and allow the Sunni, Shia and Kurds to work through their own differences.
"There is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was," he said.
Many attendees Wednesday were University of Iowa students. Amber Herring, a 21-year-old junior in social work, said "there wasn't much I disagreed with," in Obama's speech.
"I'm just ready for someone to step up and take control," she said.
During a question-and-answer session, audience members wanted to know about Obama's budget priorities, his thoughts on where the United States could do more humanitarian efforts, his plans for unifying a partisan country and what he thought of race inequities in Chicago's prison system.
Coralville resident Ida Spruill said she thought the speech was "electrifying."
"I love that he talks about uniting the country," she said.