Help wanted: U.S. firms pay well for security duty in Iraq

Friday, March 26, 2004

BAGHDAD U.S. contractors are recruiting for security officers to protect key installations in Iraq.

Executives said the recruits have been attracted by salaries of up to $50,000 a year plus living expenses for a tour of duty between six months and a year. They said security officers were employed to guard vital facilities amid a shortage of personnel by the U.S. military and coalition members in Iraq.

The security officers have been sought for projects launched by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA has been hampered in ensuring security of such facilities as oil wells, power stations and pipelines amid difficulties in deploying Iraqi security forces. On Thursday, a key oil well in northern Iraq was bombed, Middle East Newsline reported.

The recruitment effort is not limited to Americans. Former soldiers and police officers in such places as South Africa and South America have been sought.

So far, about 10,000 private security personnel have been deployed in Iraq. Many of the security officers do not come from the United States. Instead, they have been recruited in South Africa and South America.

One U.S. contractor, Blackwater USA, has hired former Chilean military personnel for $4,000 a month to guard oil wells against attack by Sunni insurgents. In February, the company flew about 60 former Chilean commandos to Iraq. The commandos were trained earlier in North Carolina.

Executives said in many cases the armies of Third World states have been raided for recruits by contractors in Iraq. They said more than 150,000 security guards would be required to protect the interests of foreign companies in Iraq.

The number of security guards in Baghdad was expected to rise significantly in the second quarter of 2004, the executives said. They cited the expected arrival of thousands of foreigners to launch infrastructure, housing and security projects in Iraq.

South Africans have also been hired as a cheaper alternative to British and U.S. nationals. About 2,000 South Africans were said to have been recruited for security work in Iraq, most of them in the Baghdad area.

Most of the South Africans have been former police and security officers recently hired by Erinys International, a subcontractor of SAS International. South Africa's Meteoric Tactical Solutions has been awarded a project to train Iraqi police and security forces.

Security costs have been cited as a major expenditure in bids for an estimated 2,000 contracts issued by the U.S. Defense Department for the reconstruction of Iraq. The combined value of the contracts was reported at $18.1 billion.

Many Western contractors hire Iraqis for site protection. But foreigners have been recruited to oversee security over company facilities and protect executives and visitors. The companies have also imported armored vehicles for all travel in Iraq.

Sunni insurgents and Saddam loyalists have targeted foreign contractors in Baghdad and other cities in the Sunni Triangle. The U.S. contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root reported the death of eight people who arrived in Iraq to help operate projects.

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