The Security Firms
Under Fire, Security Firms Form An Alliance
By Dana Priest and Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 8, 2004; Page A01
Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.
Many of the firms were hired by the U.S. government to protect its employees in Iraq. But because the contracts are managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the coordination between the CPA and the U.S. military is limited, and by their accounts inadequate, the contractors have no direct line to the armed forces. Most of the firms' employees are military veterans themselves, and they often depend on their network of colleagues still in uniform for coordination and intelligence.
"There is no formal arrangement for intelligence-sharing," Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, said in an e-mail in response to questions. "However, ad hoc relationships are in place so that contractors can learn of dangerous areas or situations."
The demand for a private security force in Iraq has increased since the war ended, said officials with the CPA, the U.S.-led authority that is running the occupation of Iraq. There are about 20,000 private security contractors in Iraq now, including Americans, Iraqis and other foreigners. That number is expected to grow to 30,000 in the near future when the U.S. troop presence is drawn down after the June 30 handover to Iraqi authorities.
The presence of so many armed security contractors in a hot combat zone is unprecedented in U.S. history, according to government officials and industry experts.
In the past, "we've been careful about where and when we arm civilians who accompany the troops because we don't want to inadvertently turn them into soldiers, even by what we have them wear," said Col. Thomas McShane, an instructor at the Army War College.
As the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated in recent days, the security contract workers have been exposed to some of the same dangers U.S. soldiers face -- and have defended their posts as soldiers would, but without the support of the military with which they share the battlefield.
While U.S. and coalition military forces fought rebellions in a half-dozen cities yesterday, the body of a contract worker, employed to guard the power lines of the Iraqi ministry of electricity, was extracted from a rooftop in Kut by his firm's Iraqi interpreter after he bled to death, according to government and industry officials.
The dead man, a Western employee of London-based Hart Group Ltd., had been pinned down on the rooftop of the house he and four colleagues had been occupying Tuesday night when insurgents overran the house. The other four were wounded.
"We were holding out, hoping to get direct military support that never came," said Nick Edmunds, Iraq coordinator for Hart, whose employees were operating in an area under Ukrainian military control. Other sources said Hart employees called U.S. and Ukrainian military forces so many times during the siege that the battery on their mobile phone ran out.
That same night, armed employees of two other firms, Control Risk Group and Triple Canopy, were also surrounded and attacked, according to U.S. government and industry sources.
In all three instances, U.S. and coalition military forces were called for help but did not respond in a timely manner, according to U.S. government and industry accounts. The private commandos fought for hours and eventually were able to "self-evacuate," said one U.S. official, who asked not to be named.
Asked last night to explain why U.S. and coalition forces had not responded to requests for help, a Pentagon spokesman referred the question to commanders in Iraq, who could not be reached for comment because of the time difference.
On Monday, eight commandos from Blackwater Security Consulting repulsed an attack by the militiamen of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr against the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Najaf. After hours of calling the U.S. military and CPA for backup, Blackwater sent in its own helicopters -- twice -- to ferry ammunition in and carry a wounded Marine to safety, according to U.S. government and industry sources familiar with the incident.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company