The World Today - December 2007
THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
foreign companies while permitting Iraqi firms to operate more freely. The Interior Ministry is also highly susceptible to corrupt practices. As a result, attempts to regulate have been counter productive as more and more conditions and restrictions were piled on operators, some of which were quite impossible to comply with.
However, private security companies have tried to regulate themselves, aware that it is in their interest to do so. In Baghdad they formed the Security Companies Association in Iraq which meets regularly, exchanges information and can present a collective view. In February last year the British Association of Private Security Companies was launched under the chairmanship of Andrew Bearpark ‘to promote, enhance and regulate the interests and activities of UK based firms and companies that provide security services in countries outside the UK’. It has 21 members and fifteen associates. But despite this self regulation there is still the over-riding question of objective accountability and responsibility. Security companies are primarily accountable to their employer and client – as well as their private consciences. Sadly both employers and consciences can vary in their sense of obligation to the welfare of Iraqis. And certainly security companies see operations in terms of short-term tactics rather than medium to long-term strategy. It seems of greater urgency to get a client to his destination without injury than to be concerned over the effects of alienating bystanders with prophylactic or pre-emptive fire. If incidents are not investigated the temptation is to err on the side of the ‘trigger happy’.
PROGRESS AT LAST However, some progress is being made. On October 30 the Iraqi government decreed that security companies would no longer be exempt from Iraqi law. This would not be retrospective, so the September case and other previous incidents would not be investigated by the Iraqis. But more significantly, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered more rigorous rules: ‘Prompt measures should be taken to strengthen the coordination, oversight and accountability aspects of the State Department’s security practices in Iraq in order to reduce the likelihood that future incidents will occur.’ In practical terms this means reviewing rules of engagement with more clearly defined restrictions and a closer alignment to the military, improving cultural
awareness and the establishment of boards to investigate killings where security companies are involved. Unfortunately aligning with the US military may not be an improvement, as it often sets an equally bad example. Frequently US forces fire indiscriminately to clear streets or disregard normal traffic rules, causing accidents and distress. Indeed the Canadian Charge d’affaires was shot at in the international zone in Baghdad in April 2006 by a jumpy US sentry. Three bullets hit his obviously diplomatic vehicle, two entered the bonnet and one went through the windscreen missing the Charge by centimetres. It was not an accident and the Canadians protested. But it raises the question of how many other innocent people get shot at with no opportunity to make a formal complaint. Despite the shocking behaviour of Blackwater and some other, mainly US, companies whose attitudes are born of and nourished by a gun culture – one company was actually called Custer Battles – some highly responsible security companies operate in Iraq. For example the Control Risks Group employed by the British Embassy takes great pride in hardly having fired a shot since it was involuntarily involved in a fire fight in Kut in 2004. It and similar companies account for every bullet discharged and equate security with sound planning rather than kinetic reaction. Aegis, which works for US Department of Defense, and might be tempted to fall into their US client’s expectation of ‘defence by fire’ has acted with restraint and forethought, seeing its role in the context of reconstruction. It set up and runs the Regional Operations Centre in Baghdad. This gives an intelligence picture of the whole of Iraq and is used by all those connected with logistic support and supply in planning and executing convoys. Aegis also has a civil affairs programme in parallel with its escort and security duties, indicating a commitment to Iraq’s future. What is needed is a change of attitude. Security companies should see their role not simply as a series of short-term escort missions but more strategically as a key element in rebuilding the country. They should understand that prophylactic fire may serve the immediate purpose of clearing the streets but is eventually counterproductive and alienates the population. In turn, all private security company members should not be dismissed as gun-toting mercenaries; but sensible regulation and accountability must be encouraged so they can all fall in line with acceptable standards of operational behaviour. The State Department has been lamentably, perhaps criminally, slow to react to a situation that has been out of hand for years. But we should encourage the small steps that are now being made.
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