Mercenaries and Murder in Iraq

As private security firms take on more responsibility in Iraq, no amount of regulation can stop tragedies from happening

It would be nice to celebrate the recent withdrawal of the remaining British troops from Iraq as the end of the UK's direct involvement in the military occupation there. But such festivities would unfortunately be premature.

The killing
last Sunday in Baghdad's Green Zone of two armed contractors working
for the London-based mercenary firm ArmorGroup by another British
contractor from the company, serves as a grim reminder that Brits are
still deeply involved in the prosecution of the war.

In fact,
with no countries officially left in the so-called "coalition of the
willing", contractors are now playing a more important role than ever,
as the Obama administration begins to slowly scale back the war in Iraq.

In June, a Pentagon report revealed that there are still 132,610 contractors in Iraq
- effectively doubling the size of the occupation - and that the use of
armed "private security contractors" in the country actually increased
by 23% during the second quarter of 2009.

The US defence
department doesn't break down its data by nationality, but the report
does specify that there are 60,244 "third country nationals", or
contractors that are neither American nor Iraqi, on the payroll in
Iraq. Therefore, the number of British citizens that are part of this
shadow army is likely in the thousands.

Sunday's shooting
should also dispel the myth, if anyone still believes it, that
incidents like this are somehow avoidable. Unlike its competitors Dyncorp, Triple Canopy and Blackwater, whose outrageous scandals continue to mount, ArmorGroup has with few exceptions managed to steer clear of negative press.

Moreover, the company has been an outspoken advocate
for more rigorous vetting of armed contractors and for greater outside
regulation of the industry as a whole. Back in 2005, for example, an
ArmorGroup spokesman said:
"We are demanding regulation. It is extraordinary that ... any Joe Public
can get a Kalashnikov and work with a security company abroad. This is
an issue of accountability."

But when ArmorGroup hired Daniel
Fitzsimons, who shot his two co-workers during a scuffle after a late
night of drinking, the obvious warning signs were not heeded.

2007, Fitzsimons was fired and fined $3,000 for "extreme negligence" by
Aegis, another British mercenary firm in Iraq, after only a few months
on the job. Colleagues said that he had a history of violent conduct
and had "been a loose cannon for years".

Not surprisingly,
Fitzsimons was also apparently traumatised by his experiences in war.
On his Facebook and MySpace profiles he wrote about the challenges of
the "war inside your head" and his constant use of alcohol and drugs to numb the pain.

I come home from each rotation I give my liver, kidneys and brain cells
a good hiding to teach them a lesson, and to help me achieve this I get
as wasted as possible at every opportunity," he wrote. "Remember
reality is a condition caused by lack of drugs."

apparently did not pick up on these red flags, however, perhaps because
such personal problems are likely par for the course when you enter the world of mercenaries.
"Violent conduct" isn't a worrisome trait, but in the end what these
security contractors are trained to do. Hence, just as the "laws of
war" have not stopped soldiers from torturing and committing war
crimes, no amount of internal vetting or government regulation of the mercenary industry - even with the best of intentions - will be able to stop such tragedies from happening again.

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