In principle, the use of mercenaries has been banned since 1989 by the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989, an additional protocol to the Geneva Convention. Nineteen countries have ratified the Convention: Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Cameroon, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Suriname, Togo, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Uzbekistan. An additional nine have signed but have yet to ratify the Convention: Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Morocco, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The US and UK, each with a huge private military industry, are notable for their absence as signatories.
We should ask John Kerry to commit in favor of the US signing this convention.
I started this post -- concerning the role of private military companies and mercenaries in Iraq yesterday. But I was so shocked at what I was finding that I had to sleep on it before I could continue.
The Economist calls the phenomenon The Baghdad Boom:
British companies have been grousing about losing out to the Americans in Iraq. But in one area, British companies excel: security
The sight of a mob of Iraqi stone-throwers attacking the gates to the Basra palace where the coalition has its southern headquarters is no surprise. What's odd is the identity of the uniformed men holding them off. The single Briton prodding his six Fijians to stand their ground are not British army soldiers but employees of Global Risk Strategies, a London-based security company.
Private military companies ( PMC s)—mercenaries, in oldspeak—manning the occupation administration's front lines are now the third-largest contributor to the war effort after the United States and Britain. British ones are popular, largely because of the reputation of the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment whose ex-employees run and man many of the companies. They maintain they have twice as many men on the ground as their American counterparts. According to David Claridge, managing director of Janusian, a London-based security firm, Iraq has boosted British military companies' revenues from ��200m ($320m) before the war to over ��1 billion, making security by far Britain's most lucrative post-war export to Iraq.
The best pieces I found were a must-read story from The Independent, By Robert Fisk in Baghdad and Severin Carrell in London: Occupiers spend millions on private army of security men ( which also appeared from The Star in South Africa as Security firms and mercenaries coining it in Iraq) and Britain's secret army in Iraq: thousands of armed security men who answer to nobody
An army of thousands of mercenaries has appeared in Iraq's major cities, many of them former British and American soldiers hired by the occupying Anglo-American authorities and by dozens of companies who fear for the lives of their employees.
Many of the armed Britons are former SAS soldiers and heavily armed South Africans are also working for the occupation. "My people know how to use weapons and they're all SAS," said the British leader of one security team in southern Baghdad. "But there are people running around with guns now who are just cowboys. We always conceal our weapons, but these guys think they're in a Hollywood film."
There are serious doubts even within the occupying power about America's choice to send Chilean mercenaries, many trained during General Pinochet's vicious dictatorship, to guard Baghdad airport. Many South Africans are in Iraq illegally - they are breaking new laws, passed by the government in Pretoria, to control South Africa's booming export of mercenaries. Many have been arrested on their return home because they are do not have the licence now required by private soldiers.
Casualties among the mercenaries are not included in the regular body count put out by the occupation authorities, which may account for the persistent suspicion among Iraqis that the US is underestimating its figures of military dead and wounded. Some British experts claim that private policing is now the UK's biggest export to Iraq - a growth fueled by the surge in bomb attacks on coalition forces, aid agencies and UN buildings since the official end of the war in May last year.
Many companies operate from villas in middle-class areas of Baghdad with no name on the door. Some security men claim they can earn more than ��80,000 a year; but short-term, high-risk mercenary work can bring much higher rewards. Security personnel working a seven-day contract in cities like Fallujah, can make $1,000 a day.
They also mention ArmorGroup:
Another British-owned company, ArmorGroup has an ��876,000 contract to supply 20 security guards for the Foreign Office. That figure will rise by 50 per cent in July. The firm also employs about 500 Gurkhas to guard executives with the US firms Bechtel and Kellogg Brown & Root.
Check out this nice bit from an Armor press release:
While Armor's products division is tied to law enforcement, its security division -- ArmorGroup Services -- is more closely allied with the world of espionage.
That's why it is useful to have former KGB members such as Mikhail Golovatov, former head of the Alpha Group -- the KGB's counter-mafia and counter-terrorism unit -- on the Armor payroll in Russia.
"I'm very happy with the progress Armor is making and what the company is doing with its business mix. That should show up in its numbers in the next nine months to a year," he said.
Armor executives, meanwhile, say recession or an economic downturn shouldn't hold the company back. In fact, Latin America's economic doldrums are carving out new business possibilities for Armor, and in the near future it plans to open a Miami office to run its Latin American operations.
"Multinational companies always tend to have money to spend to protect their physical and personal assets," Spiller said. "Our business can only get better as people become more aware of the risks."
(Robert Fisk also did a brilliant write-up of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war; not to be missed!)
In The Herald in Scotland, Ian Bruce, Defence Correspondent reports that security/mercenary services are now the UK's most profitable export: SAS veterans among the bulldogs of war cashing in on boom
British mercenary firms have made an estimated ��800m from providing private armies for security duties in post-Saddam Iraq, and now qualify as the UK's most lucrative export earner from the country in the past year.
Armed mercenaries being paid out of government or corporate funds outnumber the Army's 8800-strong garrison in the country by "at least a factor of two", according to concerned military sources.
Senior sources also say there are more ex-SAS soldiers acting as advisers for "private military companies" than currently serving in the elite, 300-man regiment based near Hereford.
SFGate.com: Global security firms fill in as private armies
15,000 agents patrol violent streets of Iraq
Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004
A group of American construction executives was traveling in a convoy down a palm-lined highway 30 miles north of Baghdad one January day when gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades suddenly exploded everywhere.
Private security agents riding with the convoy fought off the attackers in a hail of gunfire. Two of the agents died, as did an unknown number of guerrillas.
The bloodshed was not publicly reported at the time, and the agents' employer, the Steele Foundation of San Francisco, drew a cloak of discreet silence over the incident to protect its clients' identity.
The shootout was just one more example of the behind-the-scenes role played in Iraq by an estimated 15,000 private security agents from the United States, Britain and countries as varied as Nepal, Chile, Ukraine, Israel, South Africa and Fiji. They are employed by about 25 different firms that are playing their part in Iraq's highly dangerous postwar environment by performing tasks ranging from training the country's new police and army to protecting government leaders to providing logistics for the U.S. military.
"The rate of growth in the security industry is phenomenal," said Deborah Avant, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "If you had asked a year ago whether there would be 15,000 private security in Iraq, everyone would have said you're nuts. It has moved very quickly over the past decade, but Iraq has escalated it dramatically."
The boom in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg for the $100 billion-a- year industry, which experts say has been the fastest-growing sector of the global economy during the past decade. From oil companies in the African hinterland to heads of state in Haiti and Afghanistan to international aid agencies in hotspots around the world, the difference between life and death is decided by private guns for hire.
Meanwhile, Blackwater USA is hiring Chilean guys who trained under Pinochet to help us out in Iraq: US contractor recruits guards for Iraq in Chile
"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals - the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," he said.
Chile was the only Latin American country where his firm had hired commandos for Iraq. He estimated that "about 95%" of his work came from government contracts and said his business was booming.
"We have grown 300% over each of the past three years and we are small compared to the big ones.
"We have a very small niche market, we work towards putting out the cream of the crop, the best."
The privatisation of security in Iraq is growing as the US seeks to reduce its commitment of troops.
Lisa Ashkenaz Croke wrting for the Yellowtimes.com elaborates: Mercenaries Hired to Keep Order in Iraq
USA Blackwater isn't the only security firm hiring ex-military of disturbing origin. Last month, The Forward's Marc Perelman reported that contractor Erinys International utilized "former henchman of South Africa's apartheid regime" to guard oil facilities and train new Iraqi police.
"Franois Strydom, who was killed in the January 28 bombing of a hotel in Baghdad, was a former member of the Koevoet, a notoriously brutal counterinsurgency arm of the South African military that operated in Namibia during the neighboring state's fight for independence in the 1980s. His colleague Deon Gouws, who was injured in the attack, is a former officer of the Vlakplaas, a secret police unit in South Africa," wrote Perelman.
Who would have thought that Iraq needed to import torturers!
From IRINNews.com, (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) SOUTH AFRICA: Authorities target alleged mercenaries
Military analyst Henri Boshoff, of the Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN reports that up to 1,500 South Africans could be operating in Iraq were "speculation - 1,500 is a lot of people and I'm sure [South African] customs would have picked it up".
A discussion of the reaction of some governments is provided by Bill Berkowitz, writing for Alternet: Mercenaries 'R' Us
The recruitment of its citizens, however, isn't making either the Chilean or the South African governments happy. The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act prohibits South African citizens from direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's defense minister, has ordered an investigation into whether such recruitment is legal under Chilean laws. Bachelet also was troubled by stories that soldiers on active duty are leaving the company to sign up as mercenaries.
It is also only a matter of time before U.S. soldiers grow unhappy with the presence of mercenaries in their midst. The high salaries and shorter terms of employment offered to mercenaries will inevitably make a serious dent on the military's budget. As Blackwater's Jackson acknowledged in the Guardian, "If they are going to outsource tasks that were once held by active-duty military and are now using private contractors, those guys [on active duty] are looking and asking, 'Where is the money?'"
This last question seems to be very much in the minds of the new Iraqi security forces the U. S. trains, half of whom leave over issues of pay.
... and from the Washington Times: Use of private security firms in Iraq draws concerns
"This is a very touchy issue," said a high-level coalition military official who opposes expanded use of private soldiers in Iraq. "There's a lot of pressure to use these contractors. Some oppose it. Some support it."
Some soldiers said privately that the soldiers-for-hire walk around with their weapons in full view as if they belong to a coalition army. They worry that the private-sector soldiers might not be constrained by the same rules of engagement and that any rogues among them who kill or hurt Iraqis could bring reprisals on all foreign forces.
"What are the rules of engagement [for the PMCs]?" asked one coalition military official in Baghdad. "Are they civilians or are they military? I don't know who they are, and I don't want to go anywhere near them."
The Coalition Provisional Authority did not respond to several formal requests for information about private military activities in Iraq. The coalition military commander in Iraq, U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, responding to a question at a press conference several weeks ago, said he did not know of any plans to use contractors to perform security functions for the military.
On the ground, however, the private soldiers are occasionally finding themselves in firefights with Iraqis.
Richard Galustian of Pilgrims, a contractor that provides security for many Western media outlets, described one incident in which his firm's security officials opened fire on a group of suspected bandits along the road from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. "Certainly at least one or two people were hit," he said.
A former Special Forces member now in Baghdad said military contractors guarding ministries on behalf of coalition authorities have killed Iraqis who were trying to loot or attack the buildings.
"It's Iraq," he said. "You're accountable to nobody. But I guess ultimately you're accountable to the U.S. military for what happens."
MEANWHILE, Forbes, "The Capitalist Tool," in an article on the upcoming Baghdad Trade Fair, reports tepid interest in investing in Baghdad:
Although subcontracts are on offer in Iraq, few foreign companies have chosen to set up in the country as instability continues and facilities such as hotels come under attack.
A U.S. engineering executive doing business in the Gulf said his company has been offered subcontracts in Iraq but turned them down.
"Nobody is exactly rushing to go into Iraq," the executive said.
Who needs trade anyway when war for war's sake is making such a profit?
And what will we do for Bad Guys when they've all gotten jobs in Iraq? Will a Bad Guy just be a thug with out a job?
Seriously, the US and the UK are squandering two hundred years of emergent citizenship, patriotism, and respect for the nation-state for political expediency and the financial gain of their mercenary and oil industries. The mercenary situation is way out of control.
All this reminds me of the rhetoric last summer about how Iraq would be a "magnet" for terrorists. Here's Peter Bergen, CNN's analyst, towing the party line:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq is becoming a major "magnet" for al Qaeda terrorists, who now pose more of a threat than remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, two analysts said Tuesday after a truck bomb killed 17 at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
"A half-dozen U.S. officials who investigate or analyze al Qaeda ... say that Iraq has become an important battleground for al Qaeda in the past several months," CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.
"The officials use words such as 'magnet' and 'super magnet' to describe the attraction that Iraq has for al Qaeda and other 'jihadists,' " said Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."
James Rubin, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, agreed that the terrorism milieu in Iraq has changed, pointing to increased attacks against civilian targets and fewer large-scale attacks against U.S. soldiers.
"It is my suspicion that the types of attacks in Iraq are either backed or funded by Islamic extremists."
They are coming from other countries and "see it as a rich place to conduct their bloody business," he said.
I'm having one of those experiences when I discover that the world as it actually is is very different from my conception of it. I want my worldview back.
And just in case military contractors feel they need another house or plane, the GOP is surveying its members about where we go from here (AP):
A voter survey tied to a Republican effort to raise money for House candidates mislabels Thailand and the Philippines as countries that "harbor and aid terrorists," say officials from both governments.
A question on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Ask America 2004 Nationwide Policy Survey" asks: "Should America broaden the war on terrorism into other countries that harbor and aid terrorists such as Thailand, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines, etc.?"
Accompanying the NRCC survey, which also poses questions about health care, the economy and other issues, was a four-page letter signed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., that seeks money to help "keep the Republican Party in control of the U.S. House."
Finally, I'm shaking my head over the story of the "4 American civilian contractors" killed today in Iraq. Here's the best paragraph from the Washington Post version:
[Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's deputy director of operations] added that "the contractors stand side by side with the Iraqi security forces, side by side with the coalition forces. Every time they go out, they know they're taking risk; and they're willing to take that risk for many, many reasons, one of which, they understand that they're part of this process of bringing this country a future that they have not had for 35 years."
I don't dare hope that any reporter will be astute enough to ask directly if they worked for any of the myrid PMCs.
RIDDLE: When is a civilian contractor not a civilian? And when is a dead civilian contractor not a civilian casualty?
AND MEANWHILE: There ahve been coup attempts in Congo (link via African Oil Politics) and Sudan (both links by subscription).
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