Saturday, November 24, 2007

Inside a Mercenary Compound in Iraq

Jared Polis has written up a fascinating look at his stay inside a contractor's (mercenary) compound in Iraq. Polis, by the way, is a Democratic Party candidate of the 2nd district Congressional seat in Colorado. I'm not offering any unqualified endorsements at this time (although I like people like Polis and Jerry Northington in Delaware, and Kucinich in the presidential race). So this posting is not an endorsement. The article by Polis is just a very, very interesting read (emphases below are by the author):

The facts and observations below are all true but I am changing and switching a few details so that the particular compound and individuals are not readily identifiable. I do this because (only somewhat tongue-in-cheek) these are not people that I want to be on the wrong side of, but more importantly because whatever you think of the way contractors operate and the fact that we hire mercenaries, the individuals and particular company I visited are not at fault nor would I want to single them out just because they happened to be hospitable to me. Insofar as you agree with me that there is a problem, the fault lies with the system and the America’s utilization of private for-profit armed militias.

The guards throughout this compound are Angolan, and their commanding officers (or "managers") are South African. The senior staff they protect are a variety of nationalities including American, Western European, Egyptian, and Romanian, and stateless. The company that employs them, like most (all?) of them, is American. Mercenaries have always existed and have participated on all sides of major wars, but the corporatization of mercenaries is a startling spectacle to behold and Iraq is ground zero.

Concrete bunkers form a maze throughout the compound, and walking around the compound staring into the eyes of armed Angolans, images flash in my head of the movies Blood Diamonds and Lord of War and I wonder what kind of life stories these men have. The hardened and sometimes battle-scarred faces stare back as they check to see that I’m wearing the correct company badge to let me pass by. One time they spotted me with my camera and they called over their supervisor who "reminded" me not to take pictures and then thankfully let me on my way....

The senior ranks of contractors providing technical expertise to the Iraqi government are nearly all over fifty. There are a few in their forties and I think I met only one under age thirty. They are a hardened lot. Some have worked oil rigs, some have worked other wars, some are just out of the military, and some just don’t say (and I’m not about to press them). The armed mercenaries themselves from South Africa, Angola, Uganda, Peru, and Chile among other nations are perhaps in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s but it is hard to tell because they are so battle-hardened and old for their chronological age....

The first question here is always "who are you with?" rather than "where are you from?" The contractors hold their corporate identity above their national identity. Indeed, they come from many nations and the common corporate culture bonds them and allows them to work together for their mutual benefit. It is eerily reminiscent of the post-nation state futures depicted in dystopian corporatocracy science fiction or anime. To a person, the contractors we talked to were confused by us because we were with an NGO and not a corporation.

Some of the contractors are American (at this compound, perhaps a quarter are). They are typically social eccentrics over age fifty.

It's worth reading the whole thing.

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