On Native Ground
MERCENARIES IN IRAQ: OUTSOURCING A CORPORATE WAR
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The murder and mutilation of four employees of Blackwater Security Consulting in Fallujah on March 31 brought to light something that the Bush administration would rather you didn't know about - that it is outsourcing more and more of the occupation of Iraq to mercenaries.
If the word "mercenary" calls up images of "The Wild Geese" and "The Dogs of War" in your mind, the folks working in Iraq are not the cigar-chomping soldiers of fortune of film and fiction. The real life mercs who inspired those tales - such as "Mad" Mike Hoare, "Black" Jacques Scramme, Rolf Steiner and Bob Denard - are either dead or retired.
The preferred term these days is "private military contractor" (PMC) and it is a quasi-legal way of getting around the legal prohibitions against the hiring and deployment of mercenaries.
It's estimated that there are up to 15,000 PMCs working in Iraq. With U.S. forces stretched to the limit, about two dozen firms such as Blackwater help provide security for the U.S. occupation. For every 10 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, there is one PMC doing the jobs that U.S. soldiers would normally be doing. For example, Blackwater provides the security for the U.S. proconsul, Jerry Bremer.
The average grunt with a few years of military service is not likely to get hired as a PMC. The infantryman's equivalent of a Ph.d - graduation from the Airborne, Special Forces and Ranger schools, plus significant time logged with any of these elite units - is the prerequisite for getting a PMC job. Only ex-soldiers with very specialized skills need apply.
If you're an ex-Ranger, SEAL, Force Recon or Special Forces guy - a professional soldier who's gone as far as he can go in Uncle Sam's employ and doesn't like the prospect of working at Wal-Mart - being a PMC is a good gig. The money is good - three or four times what one of the Sons of Uncle Sam earn. For example, an individual attached to a Special Operations unit makes about $25,000 a year from Uncle Sam, but he can earn up to $4,000 a month working for Blackwater.
Most of the time, the average night clerk at a convenience store or fast food joint sees more gunplay than PMCs. Training, not fighting, is what's usually required when PMCs are hired for security work in foreign lands.
Iraq is a different case. With the security situation totally out of control, PMCs are facing the same dangers that U.S. soldiers face, only without the benefit of the heavy weaponry that an Army or Marine infantry unit has at its disposal.
That the Bush administration has to pay top dollar to recruit private soldiers to fight in Iraq is bad enough. What's worse is that we are hiring foreigners to do the work. Chile, South Africa, Bosnia, Fiji and the Philippines are a few of the nations where PMCs have recruited their commandos.
All this raises many questions. Should the U.S. be recruiting mercenaries and paying them more than what American soldiers earn? Why is the U.S. hiring veterans of repressive regimes such at Pinochet's Chile or Botha's South Africa? And the biggest question of all: should the U.S. be outsourcing its military and security tasks to private corporations?
If I were an U.S. infantryman in Iraq, risking my neck for $16,000 a year while my family back home is getting food stamps and fending off creditors, I would be mighty resentful knowing that my government is paying someone else three or four times of what I'm getting to do my job. It certainly isn't a good way to encourage your soldiers to reenlist.
On the other hand, perhaps a corporate war deserves a corporate army. Perhaps the Bush administration should drop the pretense of fighting for a "free Iraq" and acknowledge that the invasion was done to control Iraq's resources and create a free-market paradise from the barrel of gun.
So why not send home our sons and daughters and let the mercenaries make Iraq safe for Haliburton and Bechtel? Better still, let Haliburton and Bechtel and the rest of the corporate interests swarming around Iraq pay for their protection, instead of having U.S. taxpayers get soaked so others can profit from rebuilding Iraq.
Mercenaries have been with us for centuries. Now, in the age of corporations, the art of war for profit has reached a new level. Perhaps what we are seeing in Iraq is the logical conclusion of a world where everything - including national security - is for sale.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.