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Blackwater's ugly Americans

 

They are becoming the poster boys for excess.  A new "photo cartoon" circulating in Baghdad among security contractors and some U.S. soldiers – and the laughter it's generating here – speaks for itself.

"Blackwater has become a symbol of testosterone-fueled excess," one security contractor told me, who like most did not want to give his name because the industry is under such scrutiny.

The caption of a cartoon circulating in Baghdad reads: "I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am."

Blackwater has been at the center of a crisis here after a shooting – Blackwater says a gunfight – in Baghdad on Sept .16. Iraqi police and witnesses allege Blackwater guards shot dead at least 11 Iraqis. One officer told me today the dead toll has climbed to 17.  Blackwater has remained tightlipped about the incident, only saying its guards were attacked and defended themselves under fire. 

But a picture is emerging of at least some of what happened.  

VIDEO: Blackwater incident details emerge 

Two American sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity have told me that during the incident at least one Blackwater guard ordered his colleague to "stop shooting." The guard went so far as to draw a weapon to try to force him to stop.

"It was a Mexican standoff," a contractor said.

The account was also published today in the New York Times and Washington Post

Other security companies here are now diving for cover. They worry the Blackwater crisis will jeopardize the entire security industry, essential for shipping nearly every import to Iraq. 

Witness video

U.S. officials have cautioned that "no one should rush to judgment until all of the reports are in." There are currently several competing investigations under way, both in Iraq and in the United States. But delays and the bureaucratic process are making Iraqis, especially the police, nervous. Iraqi police say what happened on Sept. 16 is clear and suspect a cover up is under way.  

I met Mohammed Abu Razak today. He's a well-spoken automotive parts importer, who survived the Sept. 16 incident. His 10-year-old son Ali did not.

Ali was in the seat behind Abu Razak when a bullet hit him in the head, shattering his skull. Abu Razak picked up the pieces of his son's skull and brain with his hands, wrapped the boy in a cloth and buried him in Najaf.

"I can still smell the blood, my son's blood, on my fingers," he told me, looking down at his hands, fingers spread wide. 

VIDEO: Cell phone video taken by Mohammed Abu Razak shortly after the Blackwater shooting incident in Baghdad on Sept. 16

The other day Abu Razak found another section of the skull under a cushion in the backseat. A sheik advised him to also wrap it in cloth and burry it along with Ali's remains in Najaf.  He's waiting to go in a few days.  For now, the bundle sits on a table in his home.

"We understand that people here are killed by terrorists or criminals, but not by security companies that are supposed to provide, exactly what the name says, security," said Abu Razak. "I don't want compensation. All I want is for justice and the truth to be known."

Abu Razak gave NBC News a video he took on his cell phone of his car shortly after the shooting. He says he has also provided the video to U.S. military investigators and has given sworn testimony.

Abu Razak says the shaky video proves that Blackwater did not fire with directed shots at clearly defined targets – the standard of military professionals – but shot multiple times at unarmed civilians cars like his.

I suspect more videos will emerge in the coming days. 

While the video does seem to show that bullets came from multiple directions, it does not explain who was shooting, or why.

The investigation continues.