The Government has been accused of reneging on pledges to control private security companies operating in Iraq because it wants to "privatise the war" as part of its exit strategy.
The Government has not only failed to bring in legislation promised four
years ago, but has actively encouraged security firms in Iraq by giving them
multimillion -pound contracts to take over duties which could have been
performed by British forces, says the report published today by the charity
War on Want.
Humanitarian groups, MPs and international lawyers have called for tighter
controls on "mercenaries".
In Britain both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are believed
to favour such a move. But, with the clamour for withdrawal from Iraq,
Downing Street is said to view the private firms as a favoured option in
expediting the pullout.
War on Want's campaigns director, John Hilary, said: "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.
"How can Tony Blair hope to restore peace and security in Iraq while
allowing mercenary armies to operate completely outside the law?"
The study charts how the result has been boom times for security firms with
the industry making $100bn a year (£53bn), mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan,
with British firms among some of the top earners. Just one firm, Aegis
Defence Services, run by Col Tim Spicer, who was formerly enmeshed in the
controversy over supplying arms to Sierra Leone, has increased its turnover
from £554,000 before the war began in 2003 to £62m last year.
While British troop levels in Iraq currently stand at 7,200 - with plans to
halve this number in the next six months - there are almost 21,000 British
private security guards, part of an international force of 48,000 described
by US senators as the "largest private army in the world".
The report, Corporate Mercenaries: The threat of private military and
security companies, comes on the same day the British security industry
holds its first annual conference in London, and also on the deadline given
by the US General George Casey to improve security in Iraq. On Friday a
National Audit Office report is expected to warn that Britain's armed forces
are failing to recruit and retain sufficient soldiers to deliver the "
required military capability".
In Iraq, all non-Iraqi military personnel and private military contractors
were made immune from prosecution under the Coalition Provisional
Authority's Order 17 for acts performed within terms of their contract by
Paul Bremer, the American head of the CPA in June 2004.
It is unclear whether that has changed since the inauguration of the new
Iraqi government. But, while British and American soldiers have faced courts
martial over alleged crimes carried out in Iraq, not one security contractor
has been prosecuted at home or in Iraq despite a significant number of
allegations of abuse.
* The Foreign Office has confirmed that staff are to be evacuated from the
British consulate in Basra because of an increased number mortar and rocket
attacks. They will leave the heavily fortified compound of Basra Palace for
the relative safety of Basra airport. Key staff will remain in the palace, a
* Aegis Defence Services (UK)
The biggest British winner in Iraq, it increased its turnover from £554,000
in 2003 to £62m in 2005. The company, run by Lt-Col Tim Spicer, was awarded
a contract worth $293m (£154m) by the CPA in Iraq.
* ARMORGROUP (UK)
The company's turnover has increased from $71m in 2001 to $233m in 2005. The
Foreign Office and Department for International Development have awarded it
contracts in Kabul, Baghdad and Basra.
* Control Risk Group (UK)
Turnover rose from £47m in 2003 to £80m in 2004. In Iraq it has been
employed by the Pentagon, the CPA, the Office of Reconstruction and
Development and USAID. It also provides guards for British government staff
* Erinys International (UK/South Africa)
Formed in 2003 with a contract of $100m from the CPA to guard oil sites and
pipelines in Iraq. Led by a former political adviser to ex-Angolan
opposition leader Jonas Savimbi.
* Blackwater (US)
Provided security guards and helicopters for the former CPA head, Paul
Bremer, and the former US ambassador, John Negroponte.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited