Iraq’s Interior Ministry concluded that Blackwater USA employees opened fire without provocation in a shootout that killed eight Iraqis on Sunday. The U.S. is still investigating the incident, which erupted as the private security firm’s guards were protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in mid-day Baghdad traffic. “They came under fire,” said a U.S. embassy spokeswoman, “but what is the sequence of events?”

The Iraqi government is proposing replacing dozens of foreign security firms with Iraqi companies—a move that would radically change the way the U.S. and other nations protect their diplomats in Iraq. Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq's interior minister, said Blackwater's guards were "100 percent guilty" in the case. “Citizens felt their dignity was destroyed,” he told The New York Times. The controversy has hampered embassy personnel, who are protected by Blackwater and now cannot travel outside the fortified Green Zone.

Like it or not, said Timothy K. Hsia in the Los Angeles Times (free registration required), the U.S. has come to depend on civilian contractors in Iraq. “This war has demonstrated that there are not enough soldiers to equip and sustain a deployed force continuously for multiple years and deployments.” There are as many as 180,000 private workers in the country now, including security workers as well as support staff for the U.S. military.

It’s time to send the mercenaries home, said Ralph Peters in the New York Post (free registration). We didn’t have enough soldiers and Marines to occupy and pacify Iraq, “so the Bush administration ‘outsourced’ the work to thugs, vultures and cons. We wasted billions. And virtually every major contract to rebuild Iraq has failed to meet its goals.” Instead of trying to “discredit our troops with lies,” why doesn’t the anti-war crowd take aim at “the very real depredations of trigger-happy contractors—who don't answer to military discipline”?

This goes beyond the outsourcing of key military jobs, said Rosa Brooks, also in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). Blackwater’s $750-million contract in Iraq is just one recent example of how our government is “quietly auctioning off U.S. foreign policy to the highest corporate bidder.” The arrangement lets the White House fight wars and interrogate prisoners without getting its hands dirty, and the companies are “eagerly lapping up the contracting dollars.” But the rest aren’t better off as our “government retreats worldwide from the business of governing.”

“Instead of hiring ‘outside’ in order to do more across the world,” said syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer in the Dallas Morning News, “why not pare down our imperial ambitions to match our capacity—and invade fewer countries”?