“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mercenaries in Iraq. The money is good.

There is not much new in the use of mercenaries. The Romans perfected the practice and as this picture shows the Vatican has used the Swiss in that role since the fifteenth century.

It is a practical if not always popular and respectable practice. The French Foreign Legion works for France but the idea seems to be offensive to Americans. Perhaps that goes back to the British use of Hessians during the American Colonial Revolution.

Well times have changed even if the practices have not. Mercenaries, private contractors if your prefer, are a major component of the security forces used in Iraq. Radio Netherlands looks at the practice.

Mercenaries protect Western interests in Iraq
by Marina Brouwer and Pablo Gamez* Radio Netherlands

An army of thousands of mercenaries is guarding Western interests and government buildings in Iraq. They come from all over the world to perform the most dangerous security duties in this war-torn country. Four years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, an investigation by the United Nations has shed new light on the role of these mercenaries and the way that they are recruited. Its first report looks at the role of Latin Americans in Iraq.

Lured by the promise of large sums of money, mercenaries are signing contracts with sometimes dubious companies to replace US soldiers on the firing line. Their task: guarding embassies; airfields; oil installations and the Green Zone, the administrative and military heart of Baghdad.

Danger translates to Big Bucks
An idea of just how dangerous their tasks are can be gleaned from a story doing the rounds, which suggests that an unnamed security company is charging 3,000 pounds sterling to escort high-ranking officials from the Green Zone to the airport, a 15-minute journey.

According to Jose Luis Gómez del Prado, a Spanish member of the UN study group investigating the use of mercenaries in Iraq, mercenaries can earn up to four times as much by working in Iraq as they can in their own countries.
For the security companies, Latin America is a good place to look for recruits. The recent histories of countries such as Chile, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador are dominated by armed conflicts and brutal dictatorships. All of them are awash with experienced soldiers and rebels and many of them, lured by the prospect of high wages, are prepared to go to Iraq. Mr Gómez del Prado says the number of Latin American mercenaries in Iraq is unknown but there are around 1,000 Peruvians in the country.

Global phenomenon
Recruiters working for the security firms - most of them are US companies - scour Central and South America searching for former soldiers, police officers and security guards. In Chile, the initial recruits came mainly from the ranks of ex-commandos who had served under former dictator Augusto Pinochet. But it is not only Latin Americans who are being recruited, as Mr Gómez del Prado explains: "It is a global phenomenon. In Iraq there are also Philippines, people from Fiji, and from many other countries. No one knows exactly who they are and how many. The security companies don't want to publish these details, they prefer to work in the twilight zone."The amount of fighting experience and the country from which they come determines how much an mercenary can earn. Europeans and US nationals, for example, earn more than recruits from less developed countries. Mr Gómez del Prado says some Peruvians earn just 35 US dollars a day, while others earn around 1,000 dollars a month. The security companies pay for all uniforms, accommodation, transport, food and life insurance. If the mercenary is killed, then family members receive a modest sum.

Chain of companies
Many of the companies recruiting people to serve in Iraq operate in a legal 'grey' area. Mr Gómez del Prado says the system works like this: the Pentagon sub-contracts security work out to private companies. These companies then employ smaller companies operating in Latin America to find potential recruits locally. Many of the small Latin American recruiting companies are unregistered.

The potential mercenary is then interviewed by a legally-registered company. That firm turns them over to yet another company which is responsible for sending them abroad. The terms of employment are usually tough, sometimes very tough: "The person who signs this contract doesn't have any possibility to escape. They are even obliged to accept the violation of their most fundamental rights, the right to live and the right to security. These contracts don't correspond to the labour conditions in their countries."

Deliberate strategy

According to Mr Gómez del Prado, it is a deliberate Pentagon strategy to use mercenaries for 'dirty jobs'. The US army does not want to take responsibility for many of the tasks carried out by them and, indeed, many of those tasks would not bear close scrutiny either.
However, as he explains, the long-term disadvantages of the Pentagon's strategy outweigh the short-term advantages for, sooner or later, human rights abuses will come to light. In this respect, he cites what happened in the cases of Abu Ghraib and the bloodbath in Falluja.

But is the widespread use of mercenaries specific to the war in Iraq? "No", says Mr Gómez del Prado, "we come across it throughout history but it has exploded in Iraq."
"The traditional mercenaries, adventurers who fought abroad, most of all in Africa, have disappeared. The military and security companies cooperate with the US armed forces. Since the first Gulf war in 1990, we saw many private contractors, collaborating with the armies of the allied forces. The same happened in the Balkan war. But the phenomenon exploded with the war in Iraq."

The UN Study Group has been mandated to investigate mercenary recruiting practices in other parts of the world. However, there is not much enthusiasm for the investigation. Meanwhile, the UN is continuing to urge member countries to co-operate with the investigation in the hope that it will lead to new international laws that will curtail the practice of hiring mercenaries.
* RNW Internet translation (jc/tpf)


  1. Deuce, I believe mercenaries become prominent only when political entities (governments) cannot bring themselves "far enough along" to actually win a war, but wish to stay involved in the war; again for political reasons. A great example were the Hessians. King George didn't want to look weak.

    ... sounds ominously familiar doesn't it?

  2. I think most people are pushing the use of the term "mercenaries", in Iraq. Most of the people mentioned in the article are doing tasks like guarding facilities, working in ground transportation, or flying cargo fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Are they truly mercenaries? Well, by some people's definition of the term, sure.
    I don't consider these guys mercenaries, though. They are primarily providing security and logistic support, and are armed for defensive purposes.

    To me, mercenaries are hardbitten men who sign up to fight a war solely for the cash. The Europeans who fought across Africa in the 50s and 60s are a prime example.

    I don't think Frederick Forsyth had these contractors in mind when he wrote "The Dogs of War" back in the day!

    The Legion is not a Mercenary Force, per se, either. It is a legitimate national military formation that fights for France, is administered by and subject to French law, and is employed under the direction of the French Government.

  3. bob, agreed. These guys are simply guarding facilities and providing logistical support, not running covert operations under concealed identities. Company names and affiliations are displayed out in the open, which means they aren't particularly concerned about retaliation. Mercenaries would be much more careful to ensure that their tracks are covered up without linking themselves back to their company, or their company to their patron.

  4. I also think the fact that these guys are ins upport/defensive roles really takes them out of what we would connote as a true mercenary.

  5. The word mercenary is in reality a good word as in the traditional sense it was a hire for a reward or money as opposed to someone that has patriotic or civic reasons. It becomes confused when as an adjective it is use to define a cynic doing something for money.

    Then you have the "Black Jack" Shramme type.
    "Contractor" or DOD civilian have no poetry.

    It probably rings wrong to American ears, like the British use of the word "scheme", which means plan as opposed to a scam in Americanese.

  6. I concur, deuce.

    I think overall the presence of contractors in both theaters is disconcerting to many, particularly those who recall the days where the only people on the battle fields were dressed in olive drab fatigues.

    I have never heard about contractors doing offensive operations on any scale, though (ie raids, direct action missions, etc.).

    These contracted security types are a pretty good deal, though; they leverage our own forces to more effect. Every Peruvian guarding a gate is equivalent of another Soldier who is free to operate in the battlespace.

  7. I really love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this site yourself? Please reply back as I'm trying to create my own blog and would love to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Appreciate it!
    Also visit my homepage ... penilarge cena