State Department Assembles Secret Private Army in Iraq

Monday, July 25, 2011
Private security contractors in Iraq (photo: AP)
Once the U.S. military pulls out of Iraq by next January, the State Department will be left to defend itself and its diplomats against hostile Iraqis. To ensure their safety, officials are assembling a force of 5,500 security contractors—equal in size to an army brigade. But how the State Department intends to handle this large group of armed mercenaries is anyone’s guess, because it has refused to share information with the federal watchdog overseeing post-war activities.
 
For months now Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR), has tried unsuccessfully to audit the State Department’s private army. He wants to know how many State contracting personnel will manage the guards, what the force’s rules of engagement will be, and how the guards will be directed to handle threats.
 
But State isn’t talking to SIGIR, insisting Bowen has no authority to inspect the mercenary program.
 
To date, the department has spent nearly $3 billion on security contractors in Iraq. Among the companies that are benefiting from this new arrangement are SOC [Securing Our Country], which has a deal for $973 million to guard the Baghdad embassy, and the British firm Global Strategies Group, which has been hired to protect diplomats at the consulate general in the southern city of Basra for $401 million.
 
Bowen isn’t the only one concerned about the State Department’s plans.
 
“They have no experience running a private army,” Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Wired’s Danger Room. “I don’t think the State Department even has a good sense of what it’s taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 

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