Really good New York Times piece on WikiLeaked accounts of private security contractors. And while it’s not the main thrust of the piece, the following section shows how the murky legal rules and chain-of-command situation in Iraq worked to the contractors’ detriment as well as their benefit:

The threats were not limited to insurgents, the documents show: private security contractors repeatedly came under fire from Iraqi and coalition security forces, who often seemed unnerved by unmarked vehicles approaching at high speeds and fired warning shots, or worse. Even as the war dragged on, there seemed no universal method for the military to identify these quasi soldiers on the battlefield.

To cope, the contractors were reduced to waving reproductions of coalition flags from inside their vehicles, the documents show — but even that did not always work. After being shot at by an American military guard tower near Baiji in July 2005, contractors with Aegis first waved a British flag. When the shooting continued, the contractors, who said they were transporting a member of the American military at the time, held up an American flag instead. “THE TOWER KEPT SHOOTING,” a report said, although no one was injured in the episode.

This isn’t the whole story. I found a different document yesterday that showed one now-defunct contractor shot at Iraqi police for seemingly little reason. But it’s rare that we read about the sheer chaos that contractors face — probably because journalists like me tend to write more about the chaos that they take advantage of; and the structural issues that go into them winning more and more contracts…

Also, for perhaps the fairest piece you’ll ever read on Erik Prince, don’t miss Robert Young Pelton’s profile in Men’s Journal. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a link.)