THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
PRIVATE SECURITY COMPANIES IN IRAQ Alastair Campbell
With the American firm Blackwater in the dock, suspicions abound over the whole area of private security in modern conflict. In particular, there is concern about unsatisfactory contracting out of coalition operations in Iraq. But the September dramas on the Baghdad streets involving private security companies produced unreasonable reaction as well as sensible concern. The term mercenary has been deployed loosely as an insult rather than an objective description of a paid foreign military auxiliary; and those working for security companies have been dismissed generically as a bunch of opportunistic misfits looking for trouble and an adrenalin surge.
as far as private security companies areconcerned, misunderstood is probably a better description than either mercenary or misfit. Aspects of security have been privatised for many years; it is not a new concept. For decades, commercial companies have been employed to guard buildings and institutions, where the expensive skills of highly trained soldiers were more cost effective elsewhere. Security organisations have also been contracted as independent think tanks to assess risk and recommend measures to counter threats. As for mercenaries, they have been a respectable part of the British Army since 1815 when Gurkhas were first enrolled. Indeed, recruiting Nepalese to serve British national and military interests is a far truer model of mercenary service than, say, employing a company largely of former British soldiers to guard and escort Foreign Office personnel in Baghdad and Basra. Yet few people describe the Gurkhas – or indeed the Fijians and other
| INDEPENDENT THINKING ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL was Defence Attache at the British Embassy in Baghdad until earlier this year, when he became Senior Field Safety Adviser with the UNHCR. He is now Director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar. or Mısunderstood?
nationalities in British Army ranks – as money minded mercenaries, although it is unquestionably financial reward, rather than our values or foreign policy, that makes Britain such an attractive employer to the Nepalese. The most telling accusation over the commercialisation of security in Iraq is that it has developed without sufficient regulation or accountability: it is the lack of control that has raised legitimate concerns not the fact of commercialisation. What is strange and regrettable is that it has taken so long for Washington to appreciate the situation. It is not the first time that security companies have been accused of disproportionate behaviour and lack of respect for Iraqi lives. But without a proper investigative framework it has not been possible to pursue allegations. It was only when Blackwater was accused of killing eleven bystanders – later reports say seventeen – during an incident on September 16 that the Iraqi government was able to raise the alarm by seeking to outlaw the company. And this, combined with an American public increasingly sceptical about Iraq, prompted a US Congressional hearing on October 2 where the company had to explain its modus operandi over the last four years.
Although no discussion was allowed about the September incident, as it was under investigation, what emerged was of interest. Blackwater had engaged in 195 ‘escalation of force’ incidents since 2005, an average of 1.4 per week, including 160 where they fired first. The company had received over $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001; and it was calculated that the US government pays $1,222 per day for the services of a private contractor, over six times the cost of an equivalent US soldier. A pattern of dead bystanders, property damage, car accidents as well as some wilful negligence in the wake of daily missions revealed a trail of destruction and a completely callous attitude to Iraqi lives. A drunk contractor who shot one of the vice president’s guards was spirited out of Iraq without any investigation. Although Erik Prince, the chief executive, proudly said that he had not lost any of his clients in over sixteen thousand missions, he failed to mention the many innocent lives sacrificed in the process and the
damage to the reputation of the coalition. Although Blackwater’s performance was recorded as three times more aggressive – in terms of shooting incidents – than the other two companies who have State Department contracts, DynCorp and Triple Canopy, to the general public it seemed that all security companies were on trial. In fact it should not be the security companies on trial but the authorities who allowed this situation to spiral out of control. These companies moved into a vacuum in a campaign that was initiated by the then US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and USCommander General Tommy Franks’ ‘lean approach’, where the primary objectives were taken with minimum troops – a seductively simple doctrine which most NATO armies embrace in principle as soldiers become more specialised and expensive. Unfortunately commitments increased and contractors inevitably filled the gaps. The private security company world mushroomed with little control until the situation was recognised by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which sought to sanction and facilitate their existence through its Order 17 which gave guidelines for operations and ensured they were exempt from Iraqi law. Figures vary on the number of companies and contractors in the security business in Iraq. This is partly because of the lack of a central record and partly because it is a fluid area with contracts coming and going each week. But estimates suggest that there are at least a hundred private companies and over a hundred thousand individuals, of which forty thousand are not Iraqi. Nobody expects coalition forces to cover the huge number of protection tasks and some non-government and charitable organisations deliberately avoid association with them, preferring to ‘own’ their security. Despite the development of the Iraqi armed forces, some countries, like the US, only allow their senior personnel and sensitive equipment to be guarded by their own nationals. And this policy is validated by the large number of assassinations and attacks resulting from inside knowledge or treachery from indigenous guards who are vulnerable to intimidation or extortion. Since late 2005 the Ministry of the Interior has tried to regulate security companies but with little success. This was partly because it had no experience and no model to follow and partly because it seemed to have an agenda to penalise