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Privatising War

As quelling foreign populations becomes a staple of warfare, private mercenary forces are increasingly relied upon as a tool of foreign policy

By Galal Nassar

31/05/08 "
Al-Ahram" --- It is not just government forces, the resistance and sectarian strife that have wrought chaos in Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq and subsequent policies were what triggered the security breakdown and unleashed the chaos. To make matters worse, on the heels of the occupying forces followed thousands of personnel from private firms that offer military services for hire. The corporate mercenary business is a relatively recent phenomenon and this article attempts to probe what function it plays and how it operates in Iraq and elsewhere.

There are now more than 50 private security firms currently operating in Iraq and their number is likely to increase, according to recent reports. Officially their function is to protect vital facilities (from government buildings to oil wells) and important persons (the US ambassador, for example). Some of these companies have special information gathering and analysis departments whose staff has access to state-of-the-art military and security technologies. Global Risks is one such company. Charged with protecting Baghdad International Airport, it has hired for this purpose 500 Nepalese and 500 Fijian soldiers who are apparently the cheapest of the 30 nationalities of mercenaries currently in Iraq.

The existence of these types of firms in Iraq was first brought to public attention by the London Times, which reported in May 2004 that the number of British employees such firms posted to Iraq had doubled to 1,500 since the previous year. Among these employees were former British police, navy and paratrooper officers and soldiers. Iraqi officials at the time admitted to having no idea of how many mercenaries were operating in the country. A year later, former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld stated that they were by then in the neighbourhood of 100,000 and that they were needed because coalition forces were unable to supply the number of forces necessary to protect foreign diplomats and businessmen. He added that about ¨1 billion was paid out annually to such private security firms.

It has apparently become Pentagon policy to hire mercenaries in American wars, despite official denials. According to Peter Singer, a security analyst at the Brookings Institution and author of Corporate Warriors, private companies offering specialised military services for hire played a major support role in most of the wars in which the US was involved in the 1990s, including Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor. But this role has increased exponentially in America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A certain kind of murkiness surrounds these companies. It is often difficult to pin down exactly what functions their personnel are supposed to perform in their overseas postings. The titles and job descriptions given to them by their companies only compound the mystery. There have also been growing concerns over their lack of restraint. Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw, for example, expressed his dismay over the mounting brutality of mercenaries whose status and activities are not covered by the laws and conventions governing the presence of conventional armed forces. The practice of importing foreign mercenaries to perform special military tasks is undoubtedly a factor that has aggravated strife and turmoil in Iraq. Indeed, there is mounting suspicion that mercenaries may be involved in the kidnappings, killings, assaults on international agencies, and other such terrorist activities that taint the images of Iraq and Islam. One thing is clear: mercenaries earn much, much more than their counterparts in the armed forces.

BANKING ON WAR: The firms themselves, the majority of which are American or British owned, offer services ranging from guarding important persons and facilities, and supplying equipment and provisions, to intelligence gathering and actual field combat. The growth of this phenomenon has added a new term to the late 20th century military lexicon. On top of "remote control warfare", "proxy wars" and "pre-emptive war", we now have "privatised war", or war fought or supported by forces and personnel subcontracted from private military firms and who are not subordinate to the official military hierarchy.

In October 2006, The Independent reported that the British government had been accused of promoting the privatisation of the war on Iraq as a part of its exit strategy. The newspaper quoted John Hillary, director of the charity organisation War on Want, as saying "there are genuine worries that the government is trying to privatise the Iraq conflict. The occupation of Iraq has allowed British mercenaries to reap huge profits. But the government has failed to enact laws to punish their human rights abuses, including firing on Iraqi civilians."

What initially prompted the British and American government to turn to private security forces was their ability to recruit sufficient traditional troops to meet the unanticipated force of the Iraqi resistance. Soon, as the resistance escalated, coalition forces were overstretched and morale deteriorated -- mercenaries were needed to plug the gaps of growing numbers of conscripts gone AWOL or refusing double or sometimes triple tours of duty. Officials in Washington and London quickly perceived another advantage to mercenaries. Their dead and wounded are not included in official military casualty figures, which enables officials to project to the public an incomplete picture of the actual losses incurred by the occupation.

Soldiers of fortune could also come in handy for operations that fall outside the pale of international law because recourse to them would spare members of official occupation forces from being brought before international courts on charges of crimes against humanity or violating international humanitarian law governing occupation. If Washington continues the pursuit of the American global enterprise, one could well envision an increasing reliance on privatised military forces, or PMFs -- a term that certainly has a more respectable ring than "mercenaries", reflecting a business that has become a legal and increasingly lucrative industry.

PMFs in Iraq are equipped with or have access to the most sophisticated military equipment (armoured four-wheel vehicles, helicopters, super computers and various satellite surveillance, positioning and guidance services). They offer very attractive incentives, more than enough to tempt individuals into quitting their jobs at home as truck drivers, prison wardens or private security guards and seeking employment in a PMF that will send them to the world's most violent hotspots. Pay ranges from $500 to $1,500 a day, whereas an ordinary career army soldier earns around $3,000 a month and an Iraqi policeman earns less than $400 per month. Such figures cast new light on ways Iraq is being drained of its national resources. Consider, too, that private security firms represent $100 billion worth of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan and that one of these companies -- a British one -- increased its revolving capital from ¨554,000 in 2003, before the war on Iraq, to ¨62 million in 2005.

Not all personnel are British or American; they could just as well be from South Africa, Nepal, Chile, Columbia, San Salvador, Honduras, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Brazil, Israel and, more recently, Russia and Lebanon. Private security personnel undertake a broader range of tasks than ever in military history and the history of the mercenary profession. They guard Iraqi reconstruction projects, VIPs such as former civil administrator Paul Bremer and the US ambassadors to Iraq that followed him, supply convoys that pass through areas controlled by resistance forces, key buildings in Baghdad and sensitive government agencies, and the headquarters of the occupation in the so-called Green Zone.

A former Russian paratrooper recently told a Russian newspaper that a PMF had approached him with an offer of employment as a guard for humanitarian aid convoys, visiting foreign delegations and American petroleum facilities. The officer maintained that such offers did not detail all the job requirements that security personnel would be required to undertake, such as combing residential quarters for resistance fighters, reconnaissance missions and conducting searches at roadblocks. He said that private security firms preferred to hire Russians because of the combat expertise they acquired in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Not a few Arabs have signed up with mercenary outfits, which have been linked to some of the most atrocious crimes against Iraqi civilians, and for less money than their fellow mercenaries from other countries. The Lebanese Al-Nahar newspaper writes, "Many Lebanese have joined the ranks of the mercenaries in Iraq at salaries ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 a month, which is relatively low compared to the salaries received by their French, American and even Croatian counterparts. Experienced experts from these nationalities make anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 a day."

FARMING OUT KILLING: Contrary to the impression Washington has tried to convey to the world, reports on massacres perpetrated against Iraqi civilians reveal that the US army has farmed out more than just security functions to PMF personnel. As though the American invasion and occupation of Iraq outside the framework of international law was not already a crime by all international legal and humanitarian standards, the importation of thousands of mercenaries can only be regarded as a flagrant violation of human rights and a crime against Iraqi civilians. Baghdad has become the international capital of PMFs and hired killers. Of the thousands of PMFs in the world, more than 50 now exist in Iraq. Although most of these are British or American owned, some are Israeli and South African.

It appears, too, that mercenaries have begun to fill the ranks of the US army itself. So desperate has the US military become that it has recruited more than 35,000 soldiers who are not US citizens. Instead, these recruits possess or have been awarded the much-coveted "Green Card" and the promise of naturalisation if they should be fortunate enough to live out their tour of duty in Iraq. Most of these recruits are originally from Spanish speaking countries, but many were in for disappointment. As the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, "US nationality does not come automatically after military service. Of the 13,500 non-American soldiers who applied for naturalisation in 2002, only 8,000 were granted citizenship."

Some in Iraq believe that mercenaries are much more widespread in various official and unofficial capacities than authorities are willing to recognise. They also suspect that official guard duties are only a cover for more questionable assignments, especially in view of the fact that many mercenaries have criminal records or are even wanted by Interpol. They further hold that such mercenaries form the backbone of organised crime gangs which are used by occupation forces, foreign intelligence agencies or political forces inside Iraq for carrying out vendettas, assassinations and other acts of violence intended to achieve certain political or economic ends.

With the US-British occupation of Baghdad, all existing controls over border crossings collapsed, allowing the infiltration of various elements from neighbouring countries, notably Iran and Kuwait. Among the most important groups to walk into Iraq at the time were some 1,000 Iraqi officers and soldiers who had been trained in the US or Hungary and who had been captured during the 1991 Gulf War, along with some Iraqi criminal types who had been arrested in Gulf countries and released several months before the 2003 invasion. At the same time, from the Iranian side arrived several thousands of Shia Islamist militants who had been trained in Iran and who came to form the backbone of the Badr militia. Many of these included Iraqis who had been captured in the Iraq-Iran war and later released. Not only do many of these continue to regularly receive their monthly salaries from Iran, several of them are members of the current Iraqi parliament, as was revealed by the Iranian Mujahedin-e-Khalq organisation in 2007.

MERCENARIES IN HISTORY: The mercenary business will remain if, in the wake of major wars when armies are demobilised, discharged soldiers continue to find a lucrative market for their combat skills. Many military analysts believed that the end of the Cold War would bring an end to the phenomenon of soldiers for hire. What happened was the reverse. Mercenaries have proliferated, under new guises and godfathers, many of who call themselves "military consultants".

On 30 January 1968, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning mercenary activities. Mercenaries were condemned again in the Geneva Diplomatic Conferences of 1974 and 1977.

In the latter year, the term was given a comprehensive definition in Article 47 of the first Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. It states that a mercenary is any person who: "Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict; Does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities; Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party; Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict; Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces."

To be sure, there has always been a connection between "making money" and "making war". The soldier of fortune is one of the oldest professions in history. In ancient Middle Eastern texts from Pharaonic Egypt to Mesopotamia, there are frequent mentions of "Hebrews" (Habiru or Hapiru) which referred variously to stateless peoples or marauding tribes or brigands that voluntarily entered into the service of kings as slave-armies, and to bands of mercenaries willing to attach themselves to an army in exchange for pay or a share in the booty. Wherever there has been combat there have been fighters solely on the lookout for profit, even if their forms of recruitment have changed, their methods have become more sophisticated and their functions have grown increasingly specialised and diversified.

The 20th century world was a crucible of global wars, regional conflicts and civil strife, and a period of alarming advancements in military technology that sapped developing nations of their wealth and exacerbated their poverty. Since the Americans dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has seen at least 172 wars. In most of these wars, mercenaries not only took part but also contributed to aggravating and prolonging them. After all, they are in business not to defend a nation, humanitarian principles or the oppressed, but to make money -- lots of it. The longer a war lasts, the more money they make. Camouflage describes more than just the type of uniforms they might wear. Like chameleons they change colour in order to appeal to the highest bidder for their services, and their services are to spread death, terror and destruction. They are entirely without compunction and they suffer no pangs of conscience, traits which apply as much to the companies that have made the mercenary business their stock in trade as it does to the individuals themselves.

Whether we call them mercenaries, private security firms or the neat and fashionable PMF, they are a taint on the military profession and blight on the history of human progress.

GLOBAL PROFITEERING: The fact that some wars erupt for ethnic or religious reasons, as in Kosovo, or over the struggle for power, as in Uganda and Congo, or due to organised crime and the drug trade, as in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Columbia, suggests that in many of today's wars profiteering is a fundamental ingredient -- all the more so in countries rich in natural resources and rife with government corruption. Warfare in such countries offers incentives to criminal elements, if not into participating in actual conflict in exchange for pay, then at least indirectly by offering the necessary cover of violence for smuggling and other illegal operations, which in turn require their own private guards and militias.

Africa is the world's most politically unstable region. Its countries seem embroiled in virtually uninterrupted ethnic strife and civil wars that have wrought massive human carnage and genocide. Some of these countries have deteriorated into total chaos after their governments brought in mercenaries in order to help them reassert control over their respective countries. The mercenary industry boomed in Africa in part because the traditional notion, still widely held in certain areas, that power should go to the party that possesses the most money and buy the most supporters encourages a mercenary culture. In part, too, because the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa gave rise to a surplus of military and intelligence experts with extensive knowledge of neighbouring countries in which they have fought before. These fighters, no longer welcome in South Africa due to their ignominious record and their unwillingness to adjust to civilian life, find many lucrative opportunities elsewhere in the continent.

As for the worldwide boom in the mercenary business, it dates to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and Washington's drive to fill the gap resulting from the withdrawal of the great powers from Africa. In this regard, the US fostered strategic relations in Africa via NGOs and transnational companies, instead of by means of state-state relations as had prevailed in the previous era. Also the end of the Cold War all but turned off the taps on the flow of free weapons -- to the governments of sub-Saharan Africa in particular. This combined with the relatively poor military resources at their disposal, a weakness inherited from the colonialist era when colonial powers deliberately kept local armies as minimally equipped and trained as possible, diminished their ability to maintain control over their respective countries.

The end of the US-Soviet rivalry over spheres of influence did not alleviate explosive conditions in Africa. It merely reduced the strategic importance of this continent. Now that Moscow was out of the picture, the US had no more need to solicit the friendship of African governments in order to win more strategic friends and allies. At the same time, European nations, whether out of deference to custom or due to a lack of sufficient will, were reluctant to intervene in Africa outside the NATO framework. As the largest former coloniser of Africa, France's position was particularly significant. In the 1990s, Paris began to turn its attention closer to home and concentrate on matters connected to European unity. In addition, since the French parliament's vote to abolish obligatory military service, France has begun to reduce the levels of its forces in six African countries: Senegal, Gabon, Central Africa, Ivory Coast, Djibouti and Chad. It is expected that by the end of another four years France will have no more than 5,000 troops left on the continent, compared to 30,000 in the 1960s.

In addition, the victory of capitalism over communism unleashed the competitive commercial spirit, even in the domain of security. Up-and-coming mercenary firms were quick to perceive the opportunities, and in Africa where tensions bred by the Cold War were no longer restrained the opportunities were rife, especially in Congo, Zaire and Sierra Leone. This said, outside of Africa the mercenary business found abundant offerings in trouble spots in Asia, parts of Europe and Latin America.

HIDING BEHIND MASKS: One of the earliest best-known modern mercenary firms was the South African-based Executive Outcomes. The pioneering private military company specialised in covert warfare and aerial combat patrols. With thousands of recruits on its rosters, it won hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts with various African countries. According to the contracts, the firm was paid for its "security" services in the form of mining concessions in gold, diamonds or other valuable mineral resources.

Executive Outcomes officials, drawn primarily from former South African police and army officers, claimed that they only worked with governments or with the approval of the governments concerned. Other key personnel included Ukrainian pilots, being capable of flying the company's MIG-27 fighters and Russian-made M-24 helicopters. (Executive Outcomes was dissolved in 1999 when South Africa moved to stop mercenary activities.)

Another major mercenary firm is the US-based Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI). Also staffed by former military or quasi-military personnel, the company has a website on which it promotes itself as an organisation that offers helicopter piloting training services. MPRI officials maintain that they abide by US law and policy, that they are licensed to operate by the State Department, and that they are not mercenaries.

In Britain, a number of mercenary outfits were discovered. Operating out of luxurious headquarters, they hire out arms and forces to such countries as Sierra Leone, in defiance of UN prohibitions. One of the most important British firms in this field is Defence Systems Limited (DSL), which rents out the "special air force services" of former RAF officers. DSL has provided counter-insurgency training programmes to the governments of New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Mozambique and Columbia.

Definitive Results, registered in both the UK and South Africa, boasts an army of 5,000 fighters and a fleet of civilian and military aircraft, including reconnaissance and espionage planes and several MIG-24 assault helicopters. It also operates a commercial airline company that offers flights to destinations in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. So successful has this company been that it has managed to buy up several rival firms, as well as a company that manages the petroleum and mining concessions in Angola, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. In 1996, it won the contract from the Sierra Leone government to repel the anti-government Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forces led by Fodaj Sankoh, a task in which it achieved remarkable results.

According to Definitive Results' director, his company's strategy is "to enter into dialogue with the UN and the African Union in order to let them know who we are, what services we provide and how important these services are. We want to explain to them why we can perform the operations they need better and yet at only 10 per cent of what they currently cost them."

A more modest operation is Africa Security. Founded by former French army officer Patrick Tourne in 1990 and staffed by about 2,500 recruits, it has helped put down anti-government opposition movements in Rwanda, Gabon and Cameroon. At the time, Africa Security paid its soldiers 20-30,000 francs a month plus living expenses. The South African-based company pays a monthly salary of $10,000 to its pilots and $2,000 to its non-commissioned officer equivalents. The salaries are four times higher than what their counterparts would earn in the South African army.

THE PR GAME: Yet the more their business thrived, the more the so-called PMFs had to work on their image and -- specifically -- to disassociate themselves from the concept of the mercenary. PMFs naturally find supporters. They are of the opinion that it is important to distinguish between so-called private security firms and internationally proscribed mercenaries. But they also have their detractors who argue that there is little difference between what mercenaries and PMF operatives do. In all events, no one has yet brought charges against governments for violating humanitarian law by granting lucrative contracts to such firms. Yet some of the activities of such firms have prompted investigation by the US army itself. Investigations were triggered by a video circulating on the Internet depicting personnel belonging to a British-owned security firm opening fire on Iraqi civilians in cars. The investigative panel eventually recommended against bringing charges against the firm and its operatives.

In spite of such notorious black marks, PMF officials and employees insist that their companies aim to promote security and stability in weak nations. Their business, they claim, is to help equip and train these nations' armies so as to enable them safeguard their internal and national security. They adamantly refuse to be called mercenaries, preferring instead the term "contracted soldiers". Mercenary, they agree, conveys the pejorative connotation of ruthless and unbridled rampage, pillage and bloodshed. Contracted soldiers, by contrast, are respectable law-abiding citizens, operating out of proper offices and performing protection and training services clearly laid out in legal contracts.

As modern and professional as their offices may be and as tidily as their contracts are worded, it is obvious that much goes on behind the façade and that PMFs are willing to hire out their personnel to perform more than the contractually stipulated services. They engage in espionage, carry out assassinations, and engage in guerrilla warfare against countries near to the country that contracted them. They import and smuggle in weapons, train rebel forces, plan and execute propaganda campaigns, carry out surveillance and sabotage operations in "enemy" territory, protect the wealth and power of corrupt rulers, and otherwise help to spread poverty, destruction and chaos, for the simple reason that, uncontrolled by law as they are, they can -- and will -- so long as there is money to be made.

What is the Facilities Protection Service?

The Facilities Protection Service (FPS) was established on 4 October 2003, according to Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 27.

The order says that, "The FPS may also consist of employees of private security firms who are engaged to perform services for the ministries or governorates through contracts, provided such private security firms and employees are licensed and authorised by the Ministry of Interior as provided in Section 7 herein."

According to Global Security, "The FPS works for all ministries and governmental agencies, but its standards are set and enforced by the Ministry of Interior. It can also be privately hired. The FPS is tasked with the fixed site protection of ministerial, governmental, or private buildings, facilities and personnel. The FPS includes oil, electricity police and port security.

"The majority of the FPS staff consists of former service members and former security guards. The FPS will now secure public facilities such as hospitals, banks, and power stations within their district. Once trained, the guards work with US military forces protecting critical sites like schools, hospitals and power plants."

Which private security firms are operating in Iraq?

"According to a February 2006 Government Accountability Office report, there were approximately 48,000 private military contractors in Iraq, employed by 181 different companies. There may now be many more." As a former CIA agent, the author knows how mercenaries work: in the shadows. But how did a notorious former British officer, Tim Spicer, come to coordinate the second largest army in Iraq -- the tens of thousands of private security contractors (AEGIS)? The report also mentions Blackwater, Dyncorp, Hart Security, Erinys ... "Private military companies -- companies providing security in the field -- make up a $30-billion-a-year industry globally..."

In Iraq, there are about 50 known private security firms working. These include:

AEGIS PLC: (AEGIS Special Risk Management)

AEGIS is a British security firm, it has about 1,000 employees in Iraq, 250 of which are Iraqis. A film recently showed AEGIS members happily shooting Iraqi civilians.

Sourcewatch information on AEGIS: "AEGIS Defence Services was initially awarded a $300 million contract by the Pentagon in May 2004 to act as the 'coordination and management hub' for the 50-plus private security companies in Iraq. As of December 2005, that contract was worth in excess of $430 million. They also contributed 75 teams of eight armed civilians each to assist and protect the Project Management Office of the United States. They also provided protection for the Oil-for-Food Programme Enquiry."

According to The Washington Post (12 August 2007), the US military has paid $548 million over the past three years to two British security firms that protect the US Army Corps of Engineers on reconstruction projects, more than $200 million over the original budget, according to previously undisclosed data that shows how the cost of private security in Iraq has mushroomed. The two companies, AEGIS Defence Services and Erinys Iraq, signed their original Defence Department contracts in May 2004. By July of 2007, the contracts supported a private force that had grown to about 2,000 employees serving the Corps of Engineers. The force is about the size of three military battalions. The size of this force and its cost have never been documented. The Pentagon has said that about 20,000 security contractors operate in Iraq, although some estimates are considerably higher. AEGIS and Erinys work side-by-side in Baghdad's Green Zone.

Erinys Iraq Ltd:

According to Global Security, "Erinys Iraq Ltd is the private security company hired to protect Iraq's oil pipelines under a $40 million contract awarded in August 2003. Erinys Iraq, an affiliate of Erinys International formed in 2001, landed the Iraq contract to supply and train 6,500 armed guards charged with protecting 140 Iraqi petroleum wells, 7,000km of pipelines and refineries, as well as power plants and the water supply for the Iraqi Ministry of Petroleum. A majority of Erinys' workforce [15,000 Iraqi and 350 international staff] in Iraq are Kurdish peshmerga."

Sourcewatch information on Erinys: "Erinys Iraq Ltd, which won an $80 million contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide security for the petroleum infrastructure in Iraq, has had some powerful alliances in Iraq."

Erinys set up a Joint Venture with Nour USA Ltd. Nour's founder is Abul-Huda Farouki, a wealthy Jordanian-American who lives in northern Virginia and whose companies have done extensive construction work for the Pentagon.

A founding partner and the director of Erinys Iraq is Faisal Dhaghistani. Faisal is the son of Tamara Dhaghistani, who played a major role in the development of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

The firm's counsel in Baghdad has been Chalabi's nephew, Salem Chalabi.

"Many among the 14,000 guards recruited by Erinys to protect the petroleum infrastructure came directly from the Iraqi Free Forces, a militia that had been loyal to Chalabi's movement."

Blackwater USA:

Blackwater was the security firm hired to protect Paul Bremer in Iraq.

Sourcewatch information on Blackwater: "Blackwater is one of two companies which make up the Prince Group, the other being Prince Manufacturing... The Prince Group bought Aviation Worldwide Services [which] consists of STI Aviation, Inc, Air Quest, Inc, and Presidential Airways, Inc. These companies provide the logistical and air support for Blackwater operations. Blackwater itself consists of Blackwater Training Center, Blackwater Target Systems, Blackwater Security Consulting and Blackwater Canine."

Blackwater vs Falluja: The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force took over Falluja on 27 March 2004. During a demonstration on the following day, the US killed 18 Falluja civilians. The Iraqi response to this was the murder and hanging of four Blackwater employees on 31 March 2004. War crimes committed by the United States followed.

Najaf was also affected. Sourcewatch says: "According to Russel Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, a few days after the Falluja killings, "Blackwater Security Consulting engaged in full-scale battle in Najaf, with the company flying its own helicopters amidst an intense firefight to re-supply its own commandos... The increased scrutiny of security firms led Blackwater to hire the Alexander Strategy Group [now involved in three "K Street" scandals] for crisis management, public and media relations."

Armorgroup:

ArmorGroup operates in 40 countries worldwide and is a leading international risk management, security services, mine action, and information service provider.

ArmorGroup has bid for what is believed to be the largest US security contract in Iraq, worth about $475 million. ArmorGroup is already one of the largest security firms in Iraq, with more than 1,200 employees. It says it is the largest convoy escort contractor in Iraq -- accounting for about 30 per cent of convoys -- including about 1,200 missions last year. The potential bidders also include AEGIS Defence Services.

The list includes:

- Bearing point

- CACI

- Control risks group

- Crescent security group

- CTU security consulting inc

- DYNCORP International

- EODT

- Gardaworld

- GSI

- Halliburton/ KBR

- Northrop Grumman

- Parsons

- TITAN

- TOKAI

- Triple Canopy

- General

- AD Consultancy

- AKE Limited

- Baghdad Fire & Security

- CSS Global

- Custer Battles

- Dehdari General Trading & Contracting Est

- Diligence Middle East

- Genric

- Global Risk Strategies

- Group 4 Falck A/S

- Henderson Risk Limited

- Hill and Associates, Ltd

- ICP Group

- ISI

- Meteoric Tactical Solutions

- Meyer & Associates

- NSR (Nauthiz Strategic Resources)

- Olive Security (UK) Limited

- Optimal Solution Services

- Overseas Security & Strategic Information, Inc/Safenet -- Iraq

- RamOPS Risk Management Group

- SOC-SMG, Inc.

- Sumer International Security

- The Steele Foundation

- TOR International

- Triple Canopy Inc.

- Wade-Boyd & Associates LLC

- Unity Resources Group (Middle East) LLC

(source: www.globalsecurity.org,www.globalsecurity.org,www.brusselstribunal.org and www.sourcewatch.org)www.sourcewatch.org)

Private security companies lack oversight and regulation -- UN working group

A growing number of private security and military companies are operating domestically and internationally without effective oversight or accountability, the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries warned on 10 March 2008.

Presenting its report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the working group said that private security companies in such conflict-wracked countries as Iraq, Colombia and Afghanistan are recruiting former policemen and members of the military from developing countries as "security guards" in their operations.

Once there, those guards in fact become "militarily armed private soldiers", which is essentially a new way to describe mercenaries, who are often responsible for serious human rights abuses, the working group stated.

War-torn states also frequently lack the capacity to control and regulate the private companies, the report noted, with national legislation granting immunity to the companies -- which are sometimes transnational -- in some cases. When this happens, the private guards are only accountable to their employers, and the working group said immunity can soon turn into impunity.

The working group, established in 2005 and composed of five independent experts serving in personal capacities, called for the wider ratification of the International Convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries.

It noted that as holders of the monopoly of the legitimate use of forces, states are and should be the main actors responsible for protecting and promoting human rights.

The working group's members are José Luis Gómez del Prado of Spain (chairperson-rapporteur), Libya's Najat Al-Hajjaji, Amada Benavides de Pérez of Colombia, Russia's Alexander Nikitin and Shaista Shameem of Fiji. (source: www.globalsecurity.org)www.globalsecurity.org)

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