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Concern Over Mercenariesâ€TM Role in Iraq Rises With Private Spending

by Chris Shumway

As private security spending in Iraq increases, the role of heavily-armed mercenaries takes on new dimensions, but these soldiers of fortune and their parent companies are not subject to the same regulations as the regular military.

June 1, 2004 – In what has increasingly become an outsourced war, the Coalition Provisional Authority has just added half a billion dollars to the amount being spent on private security contractors.

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The role of such mercenaries has taken on new dimensions in Iraq. Heavily-armed personnel frequently engage in work traditionally done by the military, though they may not be sufficiently trained for the task and are not subject to the same regulations and public review systems as regular soldiers.

While the exact number of private security contractors is unclear, it is estimated that 20,000 are currently working in Iraq, according to the BBC. And their numbers are likely to climb. This week the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority’s (CPA) Program Review Board, which controls the spending of Iraqi oil revenues, approved more than $500 million in new funding for private protective forces and facilities, according to the Washington Post.

The high demand is attracting a curious mix of potential mercenaries -- from battle-tested soldiers of fortune who fought in the Balkans during the 1990s to inexperienced security officers and would-be soldiers looking for excitement. All of them are hoping to land jobs that reportedly pay salaries of $10,000 to $20,000 a month, according to the Inter Press Service (IPS) and the BBC.

“There is no doubt that there is a growing demand for mercenaries or soldiers of fortune in Iraq,� military analyst Slobodan Kljakic told IPS. Kljakic estimates that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 former Serbian mercenaries have already obtained contracts to work as security staff or bodyguards in Iraq.

Given the regularity of roadside bombings over the past year and the prospect that Iraqi resistance groups will increase attacks on convoys in the weeks leading up to the transfer of limited sovereignty to an interim government, the CPA and corporations working on infrastructure projects are spending much of their security money outfitting vehicles with armor and hiring armed, civilian guards to escort shipments and protect employees.

New standards for security escort contracts written by the CPA require contractors to have a copy of the US government's “Rules on the Use of Force,� which provides for “coordination for the use of armed contractors in theatre.� The rules state that private contractors are “responsible for providing immediate aid to civilians that may be injured due to hostile or friendly action,� but the contractor is “responsible for determining the threat situation at hand.� They must also provide more vehicles than under previous contracts by adding “a lead element to clear the route and a trail element to prevent rear attack,� a set of duties usually handled by military personnel, the Washington Post reports.

But newly hired contractors rushing to fill security positions may not be prepared or willing to carry out such tasks, according to some veterans of the security industry. “They lack the experience and the knowledge of how to carry out projects in that type of environment,� Kenn Kurtz, CEO of a US-based security company, told the BBC. “There are many, many companies that are really throwing bodies -- as opposed to well-trained professionals -- at the opportunities,� Kurtz said.

More than 200 US civilian employees, 36 of them working with Halliburton, have died in Iraq, according to the Washington Post. The increased risk of attack, which military sources say is due partly to the slow rebuilding effort and lack of jobs being provided to Iraqis, has some British officials calling for increased oversight of the hiring process for private contractors, the Financial Times reports.

Civilian contractors have also worked as translators and interrogators for the military in Iraq. A Pentagon report has named employees of at least two companies, Virginia-based CACI International and Titan Corp. of California, as possible suspects or witnesses in the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. The Army has yet to file any criminal charges against individual workers or either of the companies, both of which continue to provide translation and interrogation services, according to a report in Washington Technology, a trade journal for government contractors.

Unlike US soldiers, civilian contractors are not subject to provisions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “There are strict legal regulations on how you deal with soldiers when they commit crimes,� Peter Singer, an analyst with the Brookings Institution, told the BBC. “You have the court martial system set up to investigate, prosecute and potentially punish them if they are found guilty. For the contractors, there is nothing like that,� he said. (The Brookings Institution is a Washington-based think tank funded by corporate and foundation donations.)

Security personnel working for companies hired by federal agencies other than the Defense Department, or third-party contractors from other countries, are also exempt from the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which authorizes the US to maintain criminal jurisdiction over American citizens working for or accompanying a member of the military while overseas.

Some members of Congress are demanding that the Pentagon provide more information about the number and names of private security contractors, as well as information about the chain of command and rules of engagement under which they operate.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked President Bush to suspend contracts with private firms in Iraq that deal with the supervision, security or interrogation of prisoners. But lawmakers are not likely to make a concerted push to reduce outsourcing because the Pentagon says it has a continuing need for contractors, Washington Technology reports.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Chris Shumway is a contributing journalist.

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