Read also: Security Company Death Squads Timeline (Sarah Meyer & Dirk adriaensens, 25 Sep 2023)
Census: 100,000 contractors in Iraq (Washington Post, 05 Dec 2006)
"Private contractors were granted immunity from the Iraqi legal process in 2023 by L. Paul Bremer" (Washington Post, 15 April 2007)
Iraq Contractors Face Growing Parallel War (Washington Post, 16 June 2007)
Private Contractors Outnumber US Troops in Iraq (LA Times 04 July 2023)
FPS in Samawa, Iraq. Yahoo photo
Private US and UK security
firms are closely allied to Mr. Bremer’s ‘Facilities Protection Service’ programme in Iraq.
Newsweek (24.04.06) suggested 146,0001 belong to this ‘security’ force. The
Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, associated the FPS with the endemic ‘death squads’ operating inside the police
forces, which are hastening the disintegration of Iraq2.
What is the Facilities Protection Service?
The establishment of the ‘Facilities Protection Service’ was on 04.10.03, according to Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 27 (see appendix one).
This document says that “The FPS may also consist of employees of private security firms3 who are engaged to perform services for the ministries or governorates through contracts, provided such private security firms and employees are licensed and authorized by the Ministry of Interior as provided in Section 7 herein.”
According to Global Security.org, “The Facilities Protection Service works for all ministries and governmental agencies, but its standards are set and enforced by the Ministry of the Interior. It can also be privately hired. The FPS is tasked with the fixed site protection of Ministerial, Governmental, or private buildings, facilities and personnel. The FPS includes Oil, Electricity Police and Port Security.
The majority of the FPS staff consists of former service members and former security guards. The FPS will now secure public facilities such as hospitals, banks, and power stations within their district. Once trained, the guards work with US military forces protecting critical sites like schools, hospitals and power plants.”
Which private security firms are operating in Iraq?
There are about 30 known private security firms working in Iraq. These include:
Aegis is run by Lt. Col. Tim Spicer. A film recently showed Aegis members happily shooting Iraqi civilians. See the film here.
Sourcewatch information on Aegis: “Aegis Defence Services was initially awarded a $293 million contract by the Pentagon in May 2023 to act as the ‘coordination and management hub’ for the fifty-plus private security companies in Iraq. As of December, 2023, that contract was worth in excess of $430 million. They also contributed seventy-five teams of eight armed civilians each to assist and protect the Project Management Office of the United States. They also provided protection for the Oil-for-Food Program inquiry.”
Blackwater was the security firm hired to protect Paul Bremer in Iraq.
Sourcewatch on Blackwater. “Blackwater is one of two companies which make up The Prince Group, the other being Prince Manufacturing. … The Prince Group bought Aviation Worldwide Servies. AWS consists of STI Aviation, Inc., Air Quest, Inc., and Presidential Airways, Inc. These companies provide the logistical and air support for Blackwater operations. Blackwater itself consists of Blackwater Training Center, Blackwater Target Systems, Blackwater Security Consulting and Blackwater Canine."
Blackwater K9 dog
Whose dogs were used at Abu
Ghraib - and are now being used at some training camps? Were these dogs from
Blackwater vs. Fallujah
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force took over Fallujah on 27.03.04. During a demonstration on the 28th, the US killed 18 Fallujah civilians. The Iraqi response to this was the murder and hanging of 4 Blackwater employees on 31.03.04. War crimes committed by the United States followed. See: Fallujah, the Hidden Nightmare (Rai/ICH)
Najaf was also affected. Sourcewatch says: “According to Russel Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, a few days after the Fallujah killings, "Blackwater Security Consulting engaged in full-scale battle in Najaf, with the company flying its own helicopters amidst an intense firefight to re-supply its own commandos. … The increased scrutiny of security firms led Blackwater to hire the Alexander Strategy Group (now involved in three “K Street” scandals) for crisis management, public and media relations.”
For a shady story that gets progressively darker, see IRAQ: Blood is Thicker Than Blackwater
Erinys Iraq Ltd.
According to Global Security, “Erinys Iraq Ltd is the private security company hired to protect Iraq’s oil pipelines under a US$40 million contract awarded in August 2023. Erinys Iraq is an affiliate of Erinys International formed in 2023, landed the Iraq contract to supply and train 6,500 armed guards charged with protecting 140 Iraqi oil wells, 7,000 kilometers of pipelines and refineries, as well as power plants and the water supply for the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. A majority of Erinys’ workforce (15,000 Iraqi and 350 international staff) in Iraq are Kurdish peshmerga.”
Sourcewatch information on Erinys. “Erinys Iraq Ltd, which won an $80 million contract last August from the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide security for the oil infrastructure in Iraq, has had some powerful alliances in Iraq.
Erinys set up a Joint Venture with Nour USA Ltd.. Nour's founder is Abul Huda Farouki, a wealthy Jordanian-American who lives in northern Virginia and whose companies have done extensive construction work for the Pentagon.
Farouki's businesses established $12 million of loans from the Petra International Banking Corporation in the 1980's, which was managed at the time by Ahmed Chalabi’s nephew, Mohammed Chalabi. The Jordanian government says this was part of a massive embezzlement scheme involving Chalabi4 and a bank he owned in Jordan. (Sources for this claim: www.sourcewatch.org/?title=Abul_Huda_Farouki ; http://www.att-tactical.com/blog/?p=18 ; www.davidicke.com/content/view/4554/48/ ; www.warandpiece.com/blogdirs/000328.html ; www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5731.htm ; www.warprofiteers.com/article.
"The article contained allegations concerning my clients that pertained to loans from the Petra International Banking Corporation. These allegations regarding my clients are false and defamatory, inflicting harm to my clients’ reputation in the community and causing my clients to suffer damages.
My clients ask that you cease and desist from continuing to publish these false and defamatory statements by immediately removing the article from your website. Please contact me at your earliest convenience, or if you are represented by counsel, please have them contact me." Sent by overnight mail October 31, 2023 and December 10, 2023.
A founding partner and the director of Erinys Iraq is Faisal Dhaghistani. Faisal is the son of Tamara
Daghistani, who played a large role in the development of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.
The firm's counsel in Baghdad has been Chalabi's nephew, Salem Chalabi.
Many among the 14,000 guards recruited by Erinys to protect the oil infrastructure came directly from the Iraqi Free Forces, a militia that had been loyal to Chalabi's movement.”
Following is an up-to-date State Department list 5 of 27 further known security firms working in Iraq:
AD Consultancy (which firm?) (UK)
AKE Ltd (UK)
BAGHDAD FIRE AND SECURITY (IRAQ)
ARMOR GROUP (in Mosul, Baghdad, Basra) (UK)
CONTROL RISKS GROUP (Baghdad) (UK)
CUSTER BATTLES (now being investigated) (US)
DEHDARI GENERAL TRADING & CONTRACTING EST.(KUWAIT)
DILIGENCE MIDDLE EAST (US)
GENRIC (outside Basra) (UK)
GLOBAL MIDDLE EAST RISK STRATEGIES (originally a firm based in UK, known as Global Risk Strategies) (Dubai,UAE)
GROUP 4 FALCK A/S (INDIA)
HENDERSON RISK LTD (UK)
HILL AND ASSOCIATES (HONG KONG)
ICP (employees are only either former British and US Special Forces or Elite Forces personnel. (UK)
ISI (Baghdad Conference Palace: (“the only security company to provide 24 hour Iraqi security guards to the CPA "Green Zone". All guards are trained by the U.S. army … ISI's senior management includes experienced military personnel mostly ex-special forces from both the US and UK.”) (IRAQ)
METEORIC TACTICAL SOLUTIONS (S. AFRICA)
MEYER & ASSOCIATES, (TEXAS, US)
OLIVE SECURITY LTD (UK)
OPTIMAL SOLUTION SERVICES (AUSTRALIA)
OVERSEAS SECURITY AND STRATEGIC INFORMATION, INC/SAFENET-IRAQ (US)
RAMOPS RISK MANAGEMENT GROUP (comprised of US special operations and military intelligence professionals.) (US)
SOG-SMG INC. (US)
SUMER INTERNATIONAL SECURITY (trained by DYNCORP. INT; (IRAQ)
TOR INTERNATIONAL (former SAS and Special Forces staff) (UK)
TRIPLE CANOPY (more than 20 years in the most elite military Special Operations units) (US)
UNITY RESOURCES GROUP (Middle East) LLC. (security professionals drawn from the Special Forces and Police SWAT communities of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. (Dubai, UAE)
WADE-BOYD & ASSOCIATES (US)
Where is training for the Facilities Protection Service ("death squads"?) taking place?
• Basra Palace (UK)
“19/5 Battery: “Maj. A. J. Layden is responsible for the Facilities Protection Service (FPS). The Battery oversees a wide range of activities; from working with the border guards away to the east of Basra, to running training courses for the FPS. Sgt Duncan’s multiple (sic) is one that has been tasked with this FPS training task. He and his team have already run four five-day courses which include foot drill, weapon handling, basic first aid and vehicle check point drills. The aim throughout each course is to raise confidence amongst the men of the FPS in basic standards and encourage good practice. At the end of each course, the top students have been selected to receive further instruction to educate them how to lead future courses. Sgt Duncan and his team are now reaping the rewards of their hard work with Iraqi FPS staff leading the most recent course under their guidance. “ (There is no date on this communication.)
• Baghdad, Al Rashid district
Col. Jon Brockman said (21.01.04) “that those achievements include recruiting, training, equipping and employing 2,900 Iraqis as Facility Protection Services guards.”
• MEK Compound / FOB Mercury / Camp Mercury
A photo tour of Camp Mercury can be seen here. The photo of the prisoner compound has been deleted.
Global Security says: “Forward Operating Base [FOB] Mercury is an abandoned Iraqi military base and a former Iranian terrorist training camp, located midway between Baghdad and Fallujah.”
“TF 1-504 operates out of FOB Mercury. They are responsible for several towns west of Baghdad, including the external security of the largest prison and detention facility in Iraq. TF 1-504 recently started training Iraqi Facility Protection Service guards. This is a program to train and equip Iraqis so they can begin guarding their own critical facilities, such as police stations, food warehouses, oil storage depots, etc. … A class of twenty-five Iraqis completed the Facilities Protection Force (FPS) program 11 October 2023 at Forward Operating Base Mercury. The group of students is the first to participate in the three-day course. Upon their graduation, they became an integral part of the Iraq rehabilitation process. …”
“There have been allegations made that between 2023-2004 at Camp Mercury U.S. military personnel engaged in routine and widespread physical punishment towards Iraqi detainees. It is alleged that enlisted men conducted beatings of prisoners prior to questioning, forced strenuous exercises to the point of unconsciousness and exposed detainees to extremes of heat and cold. These alleged methods were employed to produce greater cooperation with interrogators some of whom were apparently members of the CIA. As of September 2023 the U.S. Army was conducting an investigation on what exactly happened at Camp Mercury. Some military personnel also claim that these actions were also used as a form of stress relief from the war.”
• An Najaf
An Najaf area, two hundred one facility protection service guards graduated from security training on 03 July 2023. Sixty-seven guards will work at oil and gas facilities and 134 will work at hospitals. On 29.08.03, the mosque in Najaf was bombed.
The 11th MEU commander declared Nov. 30 (04) that Iraqi security forces have formally assumed local control of An Najaf province. Col. Anthony Haslam said, "In the past three months, they have demonstrated their ability to keep this province and its citizens safe and secure." As of 09.12.05, The Iraqi army had the primary responsibility for security in Najaf and Karbala, but full control had not yet been handed over.
06.14.06. Car bombing. 10 people killed near Shi’ite Muslim shrine.
Further Najaf security matters can be seen here.
• AR RAMADI
There is no further detailed information about where the FPS members are being trained. There is, however, further information about Training Camps for Iraqis. For example, see the description of Camp David, where Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), emergency response, and dignitary protection, similar to functions carried out by the U.S. Secret service, take place. Black masks are ‘de rigour’ (see photo). These camps will be detailed in my research on US bases in North/South/East/West Iraq.
APPENDIX ONE: PAUL BREMER’S ORDER NUMBER 27:
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE
FACILITIES PROTECTION SERVICE
… The FPS is an organization of trained, armed, uniformed entities charged with providing security for ministry and governorate offices, government infrastructure, and fixed sites under the direction and control of governmental ministries and governorate administrations.
Section 2: Organization of the FPS
1) Governmental employees employed by the ministries or governorates are eligible to serve in the FPS. The FPS may also consist of employees of private security firms who are engaged to perform services for the ministries or governorates through contracts, provided such private security firms and employees are licensed and authorized by the Ministry of Interior as provided in Section 7 herein. Persons who have participated in Ba`ath Party activity within the leadership tiers described in CPA Order Number 1, De-Ba`athification of Iraqi Society (CPA/ORD/16 May 2023/01) may not serve in the FPS in any capacity except by the express grant of an exception by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
2) Ministers and heads of governorate administrations shall determine the need for FPS members at locations under their supervision. Each ministry or governorate administration is responsible for ensuring the FPS branch under its supervision is sufficient to protect key sites for which it is responsible, with the additional support of police or other forces in times of emergency.
3) Ministries and governorate administrations are responsible for the funding of FPS members assigned to their agency. Ministries and governorate administrations are responsible for the supervision and control of the FPS force assigned to their governmental agency, consistent with the standards and regulations established by the Ministry of Interior.
4) Governorates will establish Regional Operations Centers to coordinate the operations of FPS guards and to ensure their proper integration with police and other emergency services.
5) The Ministry of Interior will establish standards and training for the FPS including standards and training for private security firms performing FPS duties pursuant to contracts.
Pursuant to this Order, the Ministry of Interior will issue FPS
Administrative Instructions defining the standards for dress, training, certification, and deportment. All members of the FPS whether contracted or employed directly by the governmental agency are required to comply with the Administrative Instructions issued by the Ministry of Interior.
6) FPS organizations may be known by different names including, for example "Electricity Police," "Diplomatic Protective Services," or "Oil Police" but each will have only the specific powers and authorities granted in this Order.
7) Members of the FPS may not participate in any manner in organizations or activities that advocate racial, gender or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, or regional origin; or use, or advocate the use of, force or violence or other unlawful means to achieve internal political goals. Violations may result in the removal of the member from employment in the FPS or the withdrawal of the authorization for the member to perform FPS responsibilities as a member of a private security firm.
Section 3: Authority of the FPS
1) Members of the FPS may, while performing their official duties, apprehend persons who (i) they witness committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense, (ii) have escaped after being lawfully arrested, or (iii) otherwise interfere with their lawful activities. Persons apprehended by the FPS must be turned over to the Iraqi police or Coalition Forces within twelve hours of apprehension or be released.
2) Members of the FPS may, while performing their official duties, conduct reasonable searches for weapons or other dangerous or prohibited items of persons entering or within the governmental property or offices they are securing, criminal suspects in their custody, or vehicles entering or within the governmental property or offices they are securing.
3) Members of the FPS may, while performing official duties, use force against persons or things as is reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. However, the use of force that may be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury is not permitted unless the member reasonably believes that using such force is necessary to: (i) protect himself or others from the imminent use of deadly force or force likely to cause serious bodily injury, (ii) prevent the escape of a person suspected of committing murder or assault resulting in serious bodily injury, or (iii) defend ministry or governorate offices, government or state-owned infrastructure, and fixed sites under the direction and control of governmental ministries and governorate administrations, to prevent their destruction or incapacitation.
Section 4: Jurisdiction
1) Members of the FPS will be subject to Iraqi law at all times, and the courts of Iraq shall have jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed by members of the FPS. The Administrator of the CPA may determine that offenses alleged to have been committed by members of the FPS while on duty may be submitted to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in accordance with CPA Order Number 13 (Revised), The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CPA/ORD/13 July 2023/13).
2) Members of the FPS shall enjoy immunity from civil liability for acts or omissions arising within the scope of their duties and in the conduct of authorized operations to the same degree as other governmental officials under the law of Iraq.
Section 5: Weapons
The possession of weapons by members of the FPS is regulated by CPA Order Number 3, Weapons Control Order (CPA/ORD/23 May 2023/03).
CPA/ORD/4 September 2023 / 27
The UK was criticized for starting the Basra turmoil in 10.05. Two SAS, part of a 24-member team, were discovered with explosives in the back of their car. They were dressed in Arab clothing. See Basra Shadowlands.
“Majid al-Sari, an adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, describing the situation in Basra to the daily al-Zaman, said that on average one person (in Basra) was being assassinated every hour … The governor of Basra, Mohammed Misbahal-Wa'ili, is trying to sack the city's police chief, claiming that the police have not carried out a single investigation into hundreds of recent assassinations,” according to Patrick Cockburn (17.05.06) in The Independent
On March, 06, a security contractor in Tikrit was arrested with a “Do It Yourself Car Bomb Kit” in his BMW. What was he going to blow up? Was this going to be a “suicide bombing?” How many ‘suicide bombings’ are actually caused by ‘security’ mercenaries, ordered to do so by the US/UK government?
Headline (05.06). “Baghdad: American security contractors shot dead an Iraqi ambulance crewman on Tuesday when they opened fire on his vehicle after a roadside bomb blasted their convoy.” Which security firm did this? According to the Geneva Convention, it is a war crime to kill ambulance crew members.
Hospitals, as well as ambulances, have been bombed (also against the Geneva Convention). The excuse given is that they ‘harbour terrorists.’
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt defended raiding al Tabul mosque in 01.04 because, he said, “Iraqi citizens had identified it as a hub of insurgency operations.” One has to extend this excuse, and ask, ‘Are mosques also bombed by security forces because they ‘harbour terrorists?’ Such charges have been made.
The Khadamiya shrine, according to Newsweek (24.04.06) is guarded by the FPS. “Not one ministry contacted by Newsweek would accept overall responsibility for the FPS.” If Bremer created the FPS, then isn’t the coalition is responsible for the FPS?
No prosecution? Bremer’s Order 27 exempts security contractors as well as the Facilities Protection Service: “Members of the FPS shall enjoy immunity from civil liability for acts or omissions arising within the scope of their duties.”
How many Security (sic) people are there in total? How many of these belong now, or have belonged in the past, to the Special Forces / SAS? How many of these have put Car Bomb Kits in the back of their car? How many have carried out assassinations? How many ‘Kill For Fun’ (like Aegis)?
Are any of these ‘security’ people responsible for the 190 academic and 225 health worker assassinations? See http://www.brusselstribunal.org for details of these assassinations.
Is the increase in number of security companies / FPS directly related to / causing the increase of violence in Iraq?
Negroponte supports FPS.
Wolfovitz supports FPS.
Rumsfeld (22.10.03) supports the FPS.
President Bush, in a 07.09.03 speech in which he talks about an Iraq “free of assassins, and torturers, and secret police,” supports the FPS.
The most important articles, with excellent links, are by Max Fuller:
For Iraq, “The Salvador Option” Becomes Reality
Crying Wolf: Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq.
Video with annotated scene selection and selected links: Crying Wolf: Who is behind the death squads in Iraq?
And, additionally, articles by William Bowles:
/fontfamily> /fontfamily> Private Military Contractors – A $300 Billion Dollar Business/color> (18.05.03)/fontfamily>
/fontfamily> Corporate Media Discovers Private Military Contractors /color>(29.03.04)
/fontfamily>/fontfamily>/fontfamily> The Curious Case of Tim Spicer, /color>/fontfamily> Tony Blair's Pet Bulldog (18.08.04)
The Privatization of War by Niloufer Bhagwat
 Throughout this article you will notice a variation of given numbers, dependent on the source. However, these numbers are not unbearably far apart.
 The jumping off point for this research was E. Knickmeyer's Washington Post story Iraq Nears Consolidation of Paramilitary Unit (11.05.06) and Iraq Begins to Rein In Paramilitary Force (14.05.06)
 All italics in this article are the author's.
 Chalabi was one of the 1998 PNAC signatories to a letter to President Clinton, calling for regime change in Iraq.
 The Embassy of the United States – Iraq also has a website for Security Companies in Iraq, with websites, emails, details.
The url to Iraq: Security Companies and Training Camps is:
Sarah Meyer is a researcher living in Sussex, UK
Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
A Democratic Sell-out on Bush's Mercenaries (29 April 2023)
One Third of the “Coalition of the Willing” are Mercenaries (03 April 2023)
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (20 March 2023)
Our Mercenaries in Iraq (25 Jan 2023)
The Murtha Tape and Mercenaries in Iraq (21 Nov 2023)
Fijian Deaths in Iraq Revive Mercenaries' Issue (12 June 2023)
Latino Mercenaries for Bush (April 2023)
British Mercenaries Shooting at Baghdad Motorists is Part of "the Rules of Engagement" (08 Dec 2023)
Honduras: Iraq mercenaries recruited (27 Sept 2023)
When Americans Recruit Colombian Mercenaries for Iraq (26 Aug 2023)
Latin America Tapped for Iraq's Private Security Contractors (16 Aug 2023)
Chilean Mercenaries in the Line of Fire (07 April 2023)
The Baghdad boom (25 march 2023)
US hires mercenaries for Iraq role (06 March 2023)
Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 14, 2023; A18
BAGHDAD, Oct. 13 -- Iraq's interior minister on Friday rejected allegations that Iraq's police and military have played a major role in the death squads blamed for Baghdad's surging violence, saying that only a small number of all those caught in U.S. or Iraqi raids were members of the police or army.
Jawad al-Bolani, speaking to a small group of reporters in Baghdad, blamed the Facilities Protection Service, or FPS, a massive but unregulated government guard force whose numbers he put at about 150,000.
"Whenever we capture someone, we rarely find anyone is an employee of the government ministries," Bolani said. When they are, "they've turned out to be mostly from the FPS, with very few individual, actual incidents involving anyone from the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense."
Since midsummer, Shiite-Sunni violence has escalated in Baghdad, with the Health Ministry last month reporting that the number of monthly killings here had roughly doubled since spring, to 2,600. Most of the victims had been shot and their bodies dumped in the streets, often handcuffed, blindfolded and showing signs of torture.
Many victims are Sunni Arabs. Sunnis and some U.S. officials charge that Shiite Muslim militias, sometimes operating inside the mainly Shiite police forces, are responsible for much of the killing. Victims of Baghdad's violence are often taken away by men in police uniforms, and sometimes in police vehicles, and later found dead.
Bolani and his predecessor as interior minister, Bayan Jabr, both have minimized the possibility of any police involvement in the nightly killings. "We are experiencing a problem of impressions" regarding a police role in killings and militia infiltration of police, Bolani said Friday.
American generals were among the first to publicly express suspicion that the Facilities Protection Service was playing a key role in the growing sectarian killings. U.S. commanders themselves started the agency soon after the 2023 U.S-led invasion, intending it to be a force of a few thousand men who would guard buildings against looting.
The service today has grown to a size rivaling that of the U.S. force in Iraq, although control of the service's men is split among the various ministries they are nominally assigned to guard. Most wear uniforms similar or identical to those of the police.
Bolani also said bodyguard units assigned to unspecified officials were carrying out some of the killings.
Bolani, like Jabr, has repeatedly suggested that killings by gunmen in police uniforms were being carried out by impostors. On Friday, he repeated promises made since early this year that police would soon be issued uniforms and vehicles that would be difficult to duplicate.
Bolani also said police forces are trying to reform themselves, such as by retraining men and requiring loyalty oaths. He said major changes were needed at the command level of the Interior Ministry itself and that he had the backing of the government to make them.
Iraq's government, led by the Shiite religious parties that also lead the militias, has shown little willingness to confront them.
Interior Ministry officials were serious about purging "corrupt elements" and had fired about 3,000 employees for that reason, Bolani said. Aides said 1,228 of those employees had been subjected to administrative punishment, and Bolani said 10 to 20 percent of the 3,000 had been referred for possible prosecution. He declined to immediately give examples of infractions or name those punished.
Bolani, an independent allied to the coalition of governing Shiite religious parties, also said three of the country's biggest militias -- those of the country's two main Kurdish parties and that of a leading Shiite religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- were among those that had been lawfully integrated into the country's security forces.
He said that a fourth major militia, the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, along with Sunni insurgent groups, were "outside the political body and structure."
"We do not approve of the existence of these militias,'' Bolani said of the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgents.
There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.
The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country.
It is also 10 times the estimated number of contractors that deployed during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, reflecting the Pentagon's growing post-Cold War reliance on contractors for such jobs as providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases that were once reserved for soldiers.
Official numbers are difficult to find, said Deborah D. Avant, author of the 2023 book "The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security," but an estimated 9,200 contractors deployed during the Gulf War, a far shorter conflict without reconstruction projects. "This is the largest deployment of U.S. contractors in a military operation," said Avant, an associate professor at George Washington University.
In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. MPRI, a unit of L-3 Communications, has about 500 employees working on 12 contracts, including providing mentors to the Iraqi Defense Ministry for strategic planning, budgeting and establishing its public affairs office. Titan, another L-3 division, has 6,500 linguists in the country.
The Pentagon's latest estimate "further demonstrates the need for Congress to finally engage in responsible, serious and aggressive oversight over the questionable and growing U.S. practice of private military contracting," said Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has been critical of the military's reliance on contractors.
Labor Department: About 650 have died
About 650 contractors have died in Iraq since 2023, according to Labor Department statistics.
Central Command, which conducted the census, said a breakdown by nationality or job description was not immediately available because the project is still in its early stages. "This is the first time we have initiated a census of this robustness," Lt. Col. Julie Wittkoff, chief of the contracting branch at Central Command, said in an interview. Those figures do not include subcontractors, which could substantially grow the figure.
In June, government agencies were asked to provide data about contractors working for them in Iraq, including their nationality, a description of their work and locations where they were working. The information was provided by more than a dozen entities within the Pentagon and a dozen outside agencies, including the departments of State and Interior, Wittkoff said. The count increased about 15 percent from about 87,000 since Central Command began keeping a tally this summer, she said, though the increase may reflect ongoing data collection efforts. The census will be updated quarterly, Wittkoff said.
Need for coordination
Three years into the war, the headcount represents one of the Pentagon's most concrete efforts so far toward addressing the complexities and questions raised by the large numbers of civilians who have flooded into Iraq to work. With few industry standards, the military and contractors have sometimes lacked coordination, resulting in friendly fire incidents, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year.
"It takes a great deal of vigilance on the part of the military commander to ensure contractor compliance," said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you're trying to win hearts and minds and the contractor is driving 90 miles per hour through the streets and running over kids, that's not helping the image of the American army. The Iraqis aren't going to distinguish between a contractor and a soldier."
The census gives military commanders insight into the contractors operating in their region and the type of work they are doing, Wittkoff said. "It helps the combatant commanders have a better idea of . . . food and medical requirements they may need to provide to support the contractors," she said.
Staff writer Griff Witte contributed to this report.
More than three years after the invasion of Iraq, the Department of Defense was finally pressured into counting the number of civilian contractors working in support of the U.S. mission. The resulting census, scheduled for release in a few weeks, will not even include subcontractors in its total. Even so, the Pentagon's deliberately underestimated figure of 100,000 raises troubling questions about how this manpower may be utilized in Iraq as U.S. policy moves forward.
In 1992 then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney hired Brown and Root to create a feasibility study of using contractors in a number of military scenarios. It is not surprising as Vice President, that Halliburton a company he CEO of was an integral of the war effort in Iraq and that contractors would play a major role in the War on Terror.Civilian contractors in Iraq first emerged as an item of public concern following the slaying of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in March 2023. A few days later, Rep. Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Sec. Rumsfeld requesting detailed information on private security contractors working in Iraq. Rumsfeld's response one month later cited the number of 20,000 hired guns working for sixty firms. It did not cover the other contractors required to support the war effort in Iraq.
The only thing certain about the Pentagon's first publicly-acknowledged estimate of security contractors was that it was incorrect. Its list of sixty firms does not even cite a number who were publicly known to be operating in Iraq at that time--including Vinnell, MPRI, CACI, SAIC, and Titan. In 2023 the Pentagon confirmed the GAO official estimate of 25,000 security contractors, once the contractors and subcontractors.
It seems suspicious that the statistics-obsessed military appears unable to count its own Contractor badge registrations (required for entry to most U.S. installations in Iraq). The implication seems to be that the U.S. government does not want to publicly acknowledge the strength of its secret army of civilian and security contractors.
Last year at this time the Dept of Labor came with its own estimate of 75,000 contractors in Iraq using the number of applicatons for Defense Base Insurance. It also estimated that 650 contractors had been killed in Iraq. Grim proof that contractors may not be fighting our war, but they are being killed by it.
Now Renae Merle of The Washington Post has sneak previewed another Pentagon's forthcoming report that a suspiciously round estimate of 100,000 Americans, Iraqis and third-country nationals working under contracts with U.S. agencies. The report deliberately does not cover subcontractors. If subcontractors had been included in the evaluation, the count would have almost certainly surpassed 160,000--the number of U.S. troops presently operating in Iraq.
Public debate about the use and number of troops in Iraq has been fierce, but little has been mentioned about the civilian presence. It is now time to ask what impact this secret army will have on future plans.
By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 15, 2023
On the afternoon of July 8, 2023, four private security guards rolled out of Baghdad's Green Zone in an armored SUV. The team leader, Jacob C. Washbourne, rode in the front passenger seat. He seemed in a good mood. His vacation started the next day.
"I want to kill somebody today," Washbourne said, according to the three other men in the vehicle, who later recalled it as an offhand remark. Before the day was over, however, the guards had been involved in three shooting incidents. In one, Washbourne allegedly fired into the windshield of a taxi for amusement, according to interviews and statements from the three other guards.
Washbourne, a 29-year-old former Marine, denied the allegations. "They're all unfounded, unbased, and they simply did not happen," he said during an interview near his home in Broken Arrow, Okla.
The full story of what happened on Baghdad's airport road that day may never be known. But a Washington Post investigation of the incidents provides a rare look inside the world of private security contractors, the hired guns who fight a parallel and largely hidden war in Iraq. The contractors face the same dangers as the military, but many come to the war for big money, and they operate outside most of the laws that govern American forces.
The U.S. military has brought charges against dozens of soldiers and Marines in Iraq, including 64 servicemen linked to murders. Not a single case has been brought against a security contractor, and confusion is widespread among contractors and the military over what laws, if any, apply to their conduct. The Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 security contractors work in Iraq, the size of an additional division.
Private contractors were granted immunity from the Iraqi legal process in 2023 by L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation government. More recently, the military and Congress have moved to establish guidelines for prosecuting contractors under U.S. law or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but so far the issue remains unresolved.
The only known inquiry into the July 8 incidents was conducted by Triple Canopy, a 3 1/2 -year-old company founded by retired Special Forces officers and based in Herndon. Triple Canopy employed the four guards. After the one-week probe, the company concluded that three questionable shooting incidents had occurred that day and fired Washbourne and two other employees, Shane B. Schmidt and Charles L. Sheppard III.
Lee A. Van Arsdale, Triple Canopy's chief executive officer, said the three men failed to report the shootings immediately, a violation of company policy and local Defense Department requirements for reporting incidents. He said Triple Canopy was unable to determine the circumstances behind the shootings, especially since no deaths or injuries were recorded by U.S. or Iraqi authorities.
"You have to assume that, if someone engages, he is following the rules and that he did feel a threat," Van Arsdale said, adding that conflicting accounts, delays in reporting the incidents and lack of evidence made it impossible to determine exactly what provoked the shootings. Triple Canopy officials said they have lobbied for more regulation of contractors since 2023 to better define how incidents such as the July 8 shootings are reported and investigated.
Many details about the shootings are in dispute. This account is based on company after-action reports and other documents, court filings, and interviews with current and former Triple Canopy employees, including all four men riding in the armored Chevrolet Suburban that day.
Schmidt and Sheppard said they were horrified by what they described as a shooting rampage by Washbourne and waited two days to come forward because they feared for their jobs and their lives. The two have sued Triple Canopy in Fairfax County Circuit Court, arguing that the company fired them for reporting a crime.
But another man in the vehicle, Fijian army veteran Isireli Naucukidi, said Sheppard, who was driving, cut off the taxi on Washbourne's orders, giving him a better shot. Naucukidi said the three American guards laughed as they sped away, the fate of the Iraqi taxi driver unknown. Schmidt told Washbourne, "Nice shot," according to Naucukidi.
Naucukidi also said that Schmidt was responsible for an earlier shooting incident that afternoon involving a white civilian truck, and that he believed Schmidt and Sheppard had blamed Washbourne to cover up their own potential culpability. Schmidt denied responsibility for that shooting but acknowledged in an interview he had fired a warning shot into the grille of a car on a separate airport run that morning and had failed to report it.
Naucukidi left Triple Canopy on his own shortly after the incidents occurred. Company officials said he was not fired because, unlike the three other guards, he had reported the shootings immediately. During an interview on the Fijian island of Ovalau, where he farms, Naucukidi said he decided not to return to Triple Canopy because "I couldn't stand what was happening. It seemed like every day they were covering something" up.
The presence of heavily armed guards on the battlefield has long been a wild card in the Iraq war. Insurgents frequently attack them. Iraqi civilians have expressed fear of their sometimes heavy-handed tactics, which have included running vehicles off the road and firing indiscriminately to ward off attacks.
Current and former Triple Canopy employees said they policed themselves in Iraq under an informal system they frequently referred to as "big boy rules."
"We never knew if we fell under military law, American law, Iraqi law, or whatever," Sheppard said. "We were always told, from the very beginning, if for some reason something happened and the Iraqis were trying to prosecute us, they would put you in the back of a car and sneak you out of the country in the middle of the night."
Naucukidi said the American contractors had their own motto: "What happens here today, stays here today."June 2: Hilla
Washbourne sported a shaved head, a goatee and a mosaic of tattoos and piercings on his muscular, 6-foot-3-inch frame. He led one of two teams on Triple Canopy's "Milwaukee" project, a contract to protect executives of KBR Inc., a Halliburton subsidiary, on Iraq's dangerous roads. He earned $600 a day commanding a small unit of guards armed with M-4 rifles and 9mm pistols, the same caliber weapons used by U.S. troops.
The men referred to each other by their radio call signs. Washbourne was "JW," his initials. Sheppard, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was "Shrek," for his resemblance to the cartoon monster. Schmidt, a former Marine sniper, was "Happy," an ironic reference to his surly demeanor. Naucukidi was "Isi," an abbreviation of his first name.
Schmidt and Sheppard earned $500 a day. Naucukidi earned $70 a day for the same work.
One of the largest security firms in Iraq, Triple Canopy was known for its elite, disciplined guards, including many Special Operations veterans from all branches of service. The company provides security at some checkpoints inside Baghdad's Green Zone. But Triple Canopy officials said the company is not responsible for protecting the Iraqi parliament building, where a bomb Thursday killed at least one person and wounded at least 20.
On the Milwaukee project, Washbourne came to symbolize a lack of discipline that was a departure from the company's approach, according to several current and former employees.
Unlike the U.S. military, which prohibits drinking, Triple Canopy employees ran their own bar, called the Gem, inside the Green Zone. Washbourne sometimes drank so heavily his subordinates had to roust him for his own operations briefings, four current and former employees said. Washbourne said he drank, but seldom to excess.
An incident a month before the shootings underscored doubts among his colleagues about Washbourne's leadership, several of them said. On June 2, Washbourne was leading a convoy to a State Department compound in Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. The Suburban in which he was a passenger jumped a curb at a high rate of speed, shattering the axles and halting the exposed SUV in the middle of the highway.
A blue civilian truck suddenly flew around a blind curve and headed toward the convoy, according to Washbourne and Naucukidi, who was riding with him that day. Washbourne fired more than a dozen rounds into the oncoming truck with his M-4, wounding the driver. He later said he felt threatened. Washbourne then insisted on torching his damaged SUV with incendiary grenades instead of having it towed.
Washbourne said he was following standard operating procedure, which calls for a vehicle to be destroyed once it is disabled to prevent it from falling into the hands of insurgents.
Naucukidi said Washbourne ordered the guards to tell investigators that the convoy had been attacked by insurgents, even though many of them believed it had merely been involved in a traffic accident. Washbourne insisted that a small explosion precipitated the incident and that the SUV had been run off the road by another vehicle.
When the team returned to Baghdad, Naucukidi said, it was met by Ryan D. Thomason, a close friend of Washbourne's who was serving as acting project manager.
"What happens here today, stays here today," Thomason said, according to Naucukidi. "Good job, boys."
Thomason instructed the team not to discuss the incident for security reasons, said his attorney, Michael E. Schwartz. Triple Canopy recently opened a separate investigation into the incident after new information about it surfaced during litigation over the July 8 shootings.July 8: Baghdad Airport
The July 8 afternoon run was to be Washbourne's last before he returned to Oklahoma. The team was to travel to Baghdad International Airport to pick up a client, then return to the Green Zone.
Washbourne, as team leader, led a pre-mission briefing in the parking lot. As the briefing concluded, according to Naucukidi, Washbourne cocked his M-4 and said, "I want to kill somebody today."
Naucukidi said he asked why. He recalled that Washbourne replied: "Because I'm going on vacation tomorrow. That's a long time, buddy."
In an incident report that he later submitted to Triple Canopy, Sheppard wrote that Washbourne also informed him that he was "going to kill someone today." In an interview, Schmidt said he heard a similar remark. Washbourne denied making any comment about his hope or intention to kill that day.
Naucukidi said he didn't take the comment seriously, because Washbourne frequently made similar jokes. "He did this really every mission: 'Okay, let's go shoot somebody,' " Naucukidi said.
Washbourne sat in the front passenger seat of the "follow" vehicle -- the third Suburban in a three-truck convoy, which included a lead vehicle, filled with guards, and what they called the "limo," a Suburban used to ferry the client. Sheppard drove. Schmidt and Naucukidi sat behind them facing backward to protect against a rear attack.
The four men agree on what happened next. The convoy arrived at Checkpoint 1, just outside the airport, and set up a blocking position to allow the lead vehicle and the "limo" to proceed through the checkpoint. The contractors noticed a small white pickup truck moving up slowly behind them from a distance of about 200 yards.
At this point, the stories diverge.
Naucukidi said Sheppard moved the Suburban to give Schmidt a better view. Naucukidi said that he and Schmidt tried to warn the white truck to stop but that it was still moving forward when Schmidt fired three times with his M-4. He said the truck stopped immediately but was still too far away for the men to see where the bullets hit.
Naucukidi also said the truck was too far away and was moving too slowly to pose a threat.
Schmidt and Sheppard waited two days before coming forward, then gave nearly identical accounts of what happened. Both said that it was Washbourne who shot at the white truck and that he fired intentionally into the windshield. "His intention was to kill," said Schmidt, who claimed he saw a "splash" of glass from the bullets striking the windshield.
Schmidt and Sheppard said Washbourne warned them not to mention the incident, quoting him as saying, "That didn't happen, understand?"
Washbourne said he only recalled firing two warning shots at a much larger white truck in an incident during a different run that morning. Naucukidi said he believes Washbourne is confusing that shooting with yet another incident that had occurred at the same location a few days earlier.
"There was no comments about 'That didn't happen, you understand,' or anything," Washbourne said.
"I am not a clever or witty man; I don't say things like that," he said. "And I'm not a morbid or sadistic" person.July 8: Route Irish
The convoy continued through the checkpoint to pick up the KBR executive at the airport. It then left the airport and began the return trip.
Sheppard wrote that he observed "an Ambulance and a lot of activity" where the shooting had taken place. He and Schmidt said Washbourne threatened them again not to say anything.
Washbourne denied making any threats and said no ambulance was parked near the checkpoint. Naucukidi also said he did not see an ambulance.
The convoy continued down the airport road, called Route Irish by the military and contractors, toward the Green Zone. It reached speeds of 80 miles per hour.
Schmidt, Sheppard and Naucukidi agree that the convoy then came upon a taxi.
According to the accounts of Schmidt and Sheppard, Washbourne remarked, "I've never shot anyone with my pistol before." As the Suburban passed on the left, Washbourne pushed open the armored door, leaned out with his handgun and fired "7 or 8 rounds" into the taxi's windshield, both wrote in their statements.
Schmidt wrote: "From my position as we passed I could see the taxi had been hit in the windshield, due to the Spidering of the glass and the pace we were travelling, I could not tell if the driver had been hit, He did pull the car off the road in an erratic manner."
Sheppard said Washbourne was "laughing" as he fired.
Washbourne called their accounts "an absolute, total fabrication." He said the Suburban's high rate of speed and the wind resistance would have made the shooting "physically impossible."
"There's not an ounce of truth in it. It did not happen," Washbourne said angrily. "And as far as the statement goes where I said, 'I've never shot anyone with my pistol,' that is a lie. It was never one time said."
Naucukidi said that Washbourne fired at the taxi with his M-4 and that he ordered Sheppard to cut off the taxi beforehand. Naucukidi said Sheppard followed the order and used the Suburban to slow down the taxi and give Washbourne a better position to shoot from.
"When we were slightly ahead, JW just opened his door and started shooting the taxi from where we were sitting," Naucukidi said in an interview.
Naucukidi described the taxi driver as a 60- to 70-year-old man. He said he saw one hole in the taxi's windshield but could not tell if the driver had been hit. He said the taxi abruptly stopped.
"From my point of view, this old man, he was so innocent, because he was ahead of us with a normal speed," Naucukidi said. "He couldn't have any danger for us."
Sheppard sped away to catch up to the rest of the convoy, according to Naucukidi, who added that the three Americans were laughing and that Schmidt reached over, tapped Washbourne on the shoulder and told him, "Nice shot."
"They felt that it was so funny," Naucukidi said.
Schmidt denied that he complimented Washbourne. "No, I don't get a thrill out of killing innocent people," he said. "That was a moment of shame."Divergent Reports
When the convoy returned to the Green Zone, members of the team scattered.
Naucukidi said he immediately told his supervisor, Jona Masirewa, who served as a liaison between the Fijian contractors and the Americans, about the incidents. He said Masirewa instructed him to write up a report to use in case an investigation occurred.
Naucukidi wrote the one-page report on his laptop. It contained brief summaries of the two afternoon shootings.
Of the first incident, near the airport checkpoint, Naucukidi wrote that the white truck was approaching slowly and was 200 meters away when Schmidt opened fire: "Happy shot three (3) rounds from his M4 rifle, and the white bongo truck stopped."
In the second incident, Naucukidi wrote, the Suburban "over took one white taxi with an Iraqi single pack," or passenger. He wrote that "our team leader opened his door and fired three rounds at white taxi."
But Naucukidi said Masirewa feared losing his job and did not immediately turn over the report. "It was a difficult thing for us because we are TCNs," or third-country nationals, "and they are expats," Naucukidi said. "They are team leaders, and they make commands and reports on us. And the team leaders were always saying, 'What happens today, stays today,' and if something like that happens, the team leaders, they start covering each other up."
Masirewa, who is still employed by Triple Canopy in Iraq, did not return e-mails seeking comment.
By the time Washbourne went on vacation the following day, Schmidt and Sheppard had not reported the incidents. Schmidt said he was concerned about "catching a bullet in the head." Sheppard said he was so shaken he spent the night at another location inside the Green Zone.
But other employees did not believe that Schmidt and Sheppard feared for their safety. Rather, they said, the two men feared for their high-paying jobs and believed that Thomason, the assistant project manager, would throw his support behind Washbourne, his close friend.
On July 10, two days after the incidents on the airport run, Sheppard finally went to Asa Esslinger, another supervisor, and reported them to Triple Canopy management.'Just a Rampant Day'
On July 12, back home in Oklahoma, Washbourne received a call on his cellphone from Triple Canopy's country manager, Kelvin Kai, he recalled later.
Washbourne said Kai asked him if he remembered any shooting incidents July 8. Washbourne said he told Kai that he had forgotten to file written reports. He said he rushed to his apartment from a Tulsa pizza restaurant and sent in the reports from his laptop.
Two hours later, Kai called again from Baghdad. "He said that allegations were made that it was just a rampant day, is I believe what he called it, of shooting and mayhem," Washbourne recalled. "I said, 'No, boss, you got those two reports.' "
Kai could not be reached for comment. Triple Canopy declined to make him available, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
The following day, Triple Canopy suspended Schmidt and Sheppard pending an internal investigation. No action was immediately taken against Washbourne because he was home on leave, according to the company.
"It is essential that we have your complete cooperation in reporting the facts and circumstances of all the activities not only to Triple Canopy but also to officials from DoD and KBR if necessary," wrote Tony Nicholson, a Triple Canopy vice president, in letters to Schmidt and Sheppard.
Triple Canopy said it took statements from 30 potential witnesses for its internal probe. One week later, the three guards were informed by Raymond P. Randall, a senior vice president of Triple Canopy, that they had been fired.
"I am personally disappointed that you failed to immediately recognize the seriousness of this breach of operating procedures and its potential impact on the company's reputation," Randall wrote.
The terminations did not preclude the possibility of future investigations by the military, Randall wrote.
Van Arsdale, a retired colonel in the Army's Delta Force and a winner of the Silver Star, said Triple Canopy reported the incidents to KBR and to military officials in the Green Zone.
Triple Canopy officials said that because of the seriousness of the allegations, they expected that the military would conduct a separate investigation to determine whether further action was warranted.
Lt. Col. Michael J. Hartig, the former director of security for the Green Zone, said Triple Canopy officials approached him in his office but did not specify the allegations. "They mentioned they had a couple guys do some things that were questionable on the road, and that was pretty much it," he said.
Hartig said he informed Triple Canopy that such incidents were "out of my venue." He said he referred the company to the Joint Contracting Command for Iraq and Afghanistan, which administers contracts. "I didn't want to get involved in this because I had enough going on in my life," Hartig said. "It was like, 'Here's the point of contact. Have a nice day.' "
Two military spokespeople said they were unaware of any investigations into the shootings. Maj. David W. Small, a spokesman for the United States Central Command, which oversees Iraq, said: "This is not a Centcom issue. It's whoever was running that contract."
"We're fighting a war here," Small said.
Staff writer Tom Jackman and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 16, 2023; A01
BAGHDAD -- Private security companies, funded by billions of dollars in U.S. military and State Department contracts, are fighting insurgents on a widening scale in Iraq, enduring daily attacks, returning fire and taking hundreds of casualties that have been underreported and sometimes concealed, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and company representatives.
While the military has built up troops in an ongoing campaign to secure Baghdad, the security companies, out of public view, have been engaged in a parallel surge, boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up evasive action as attacks increase, the officials and company representatives said. One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, according to previously unreleased statistics; one security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.
The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, in part because of bureaucratic delays and corruption in the Iraqi government licensing process, according to U.S. officials. Blackwater USA, a prominent North Carolina firm that protects U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, and several other companies have not applied, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Blackwater said that it obtained a one-year license in 2023 but that shifting Iraqi government policy has impeded its attempts to renew.
The security industry's enormous growth has been facilitated by the U.S. military, which uses the 20,000 to 30,000 contractors to offset chronic troop shortages. Armed contractors protect all convoys transporting reconstruction materiel, including vehicles, weapons and ammunition for the Iraqi army and police. They guard key U.S. military installations and provide personal security for at least three commanding generals, including Air Force Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Scott, who oversees U.S. military contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I'm kind of practicing what I preach here," Scott said in an interview on the use of private security forces for such tasks. "I'm a two-star general, but I'm not the most important guy in the multinational force. If it's a lower-priority mission and it's within the capabilities of private security, this is an appropriate risk trade-off."
The military plans to outsource at least $1.5 billion in security operations this year, including the three largest security contracts in Iraq: a "theaterwide" contract to protect U.S. bases that is worth up to $480 million, according to Scott; a contract for up to $475 million to provide intelligence for the Army and personal security for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and a contract for up to $450 million to protect reconstruction convoys. The Army has also tested a plan to use private security on military convoys for the first time, a shift that would significantly increase the presence of armed contractors on Iraq's dangerous roads.
"The whole face of private security changed with Iraq, and it will never go back to how it was," said Leon Sharon, a retired Special Operations officer who commands 500 private Kurdish guards at an immense warehouse transit point for weapons, ammunition and other materiel on the outskirts of Baghdad.
U.S. officials and security company representatives emphasized that contractors are strictly limited to defensive operations. But company representatives in the field said insurgents rarely distinguish between the military and private forces, drawing the contractors into a bloody and escalating campaign.
The U.S. military has never released complete statistics on contractor casualties or the number of attacks on privately guarded convoys. The military deleted casualty figures from reports issued by the Reconstruction Logistics Directorate of the Corps of Engineers, according to Victoria Wayne, who served as deputy director for logistics until 2023 and spent 2 1/2 years in Iraq.
Wayne described security contractors as "the unsung heroes of the war." She said she believed the military wanted to hide information showing that private guards were fighting and dying in large numbers because it would be perceived as bad news.
"It was like there was a major war being fought out there, but we were the only ones who knew about it," Wayne said.
After a year of protests by Wayne and logistics director Jack Holly, a retired Marine colonel, the casualty figures were included. In an operational overview updated last month, the logistics directorate reported that 132 security contractors and truck drivers had been killed and 416 wounded since fall 2023. Four security contractors and a truck driver remained missing, and 208 vehicles were destroyed. Only convoys registered with the logistics directorate are counted in the statistics, and the total number of casualties is believed to be higher.
"When you see the number of my people who have been killed, the American public should recognize that every one of them represents an American soldier or Marine or sailor who didn't have to go in harm's way," Holly said in an interview.
According to the logistics directorate, attacks against registered supply convoys rose from 5.4 percent in 2023, to 9.1 percent in 2023, to 14.7 percent through May 10. The directorate has tracked 12,860 convoys, a fraction of the total number of private supply convoys on Iraqi roads.
"The military are very conscious that we're in their battle space," said Cameron Simpson, country operations manager for ArmorGroup International, a British firm that protects 32 percent of all nonmilitary supply convoys in Iraq. "We would never launch into an offensive operation, but when you're co-located, you're all one team, really."
ArmorGroup, which started in Iraq with 20 employees and a handful of SUVs, has grown to a force of 1,200 -- the equivalent of nearly two battalions -- with 240 armored trucks; nearly half of the publicly traded company's $273.5 million in revenue last year came from Iraq. Globally, ArmorGroup employs 9,000 people in 38 countries.
The company, with headquarters at a complex of sandstone villas near Baghdad's Green Zone, is acquiring a fleet of $200,000 tactical armored vehicles equipped with two gun hatches and able to withstand armor-piercing bullets and some of the largest roadside bombs.
The U.S. Labor Department reported that ArmorGroup has lost 26 employees in Iraq, based on insurance claims. Sources close to the company said the figure is nearly 30. Only three countries in the 25-nation coalition -- the United States, Britain and Italy -- have sustained more combat-related deaths.A Turning Point
In spring 2023, Holly built the logistics network for Iraq's reconstruction from scratch. The network delivered 31,100 vehicles, 451,000 weapons and 410 million rounds of ammunition to the new Iraqi security forces, and items as varied as computers, baby incubators, school desks and mattresses for every Iraqi government ministry. The network came to rival the military's own logistics operation.
Holly also discovered he was at the center of an undeclared war.
He assembled a small private army to protect materiel as it flowed from border crossings and a southern port at Umm Qasr to the 650,000-square-foot warehouse complex at Abu Ghraib and on to its final destination.
"The only way anything gets to you here is if somebody bets their life on its delivery," said Holly, a burly civilian with a trimmed gray beard who strikes a commanding presence even in khakis, multicolored checked shirts and tennis shoes. "That's the fundamental issue: Nothing moves anywhere in Iraq without betting your life."
The most dangerous link in Holly's supply chain is shipping. It requires the slow-moving convoys to navigate Iraq's dangerous roads. Holly erected a ground-traffic control center in a low-slung trailer near his office in Baghdad's Green Zone. The security companies monitor their convoys in air-conditioned silence, which is shattered by a jarring klaxon each time a contractor pushes a dashboard "panic button," signaling a possible attack.
On May 8, 2023, after dropping off a load that included T-shirts, plastic whistles and 250,000 rounds of ammunition for Iraqi police, one of Holly's convoys was attacked. Of 20 security contractors and truck drivers, 13 were killed or listed as missing; five of the seven survivors were wounded. Insurgents booby-trapped four of the bodies. To eliminate the threat, a military recovery team fired a tank round into a pile of corpses, according to an after-action report.
The convoy had been protected by Hart Security, a British firm that used unarmored vehicles. Within a month, another Hart-led convoy was hit. The team leader informed the ground-control center by cellphone that he was running out of ammunition. He left the cellphone on as his convoy was overrun.
"We listened to the bad guys for almost an hour after they finished everybody off," Holly said.
The attacks represented a turning point in the private war.
Holly vowed he would never again use unarmored vehicles for convoy protection. He went to his primary shipper, Public Warehousing Co. of Kuwait, and ordered a change. PWC hired ArmorGroup, which had armed Ford F-350 pickups with steel-reinforced gun turrets and belt-fed machine guns.
Other companies followed suit, ramping up production of an array of armored and semi-armored trucks of various styles and colors, until Iraq's supply routes resembled the post-apocalyptic world of the "Mad Max" movies.Bolstered Tactics, Armor
ArmorGroup started in Iraq in 2023 with four security teams and 20 employees. It now has 30 mechanics to support its ground operation. "It's a monster," said Simpson, the country operations manager, strolling past a truck blown apart by a roadside bomb.
ArmorGroup operates 10 convoy security teams in support of Holly's logistics operation. The company runs another 10 to 15 under a half-dozen contracts, as well as for clients who request security on a case-by-case basis, Simpson said.
The company charges $8,000 to $12,000 a day, according to sources familiar with the pricing, although the cost can vary depending on convoy size and the risk. For security reasons, the convoys are limited to 10 tractor-trailers protected by at least four armored trucks filled with 20 guards: four Western vehicle commanders with M-21 assault rifles and 9mm Glock pistols, and 16 Iraqis with AK-47s.
The Western contractors, most with at least 10 years' experience, are paid about $135,000, the same as a U.S. Army two-star general. The Iraqis receive about a tenth of that.
"Every time I think about how it was at the beginning, arriving here with a suitcase and $1,000, and there was no one else around, it's just incredible," Simpson said. "Nobody envisioned that private security companies would be openly targeted by insurgents."
ArmorGroup prides itself on a low-key approach to security. Its well-groomed guards travel in khakis and dark blue shirts. The company's armored trucks are adorned with stickers issued by the Interior Ministry, where the company is fully licensed. Holly's former deputy, Victoria Wayne, said ArmorGroup turned down an opportunity to use more powerful weaponry as the insurgent threat increased.
"As a publicly traded company, they didn't want to be perceived as a mercenary force," she said.
But the company is under constant attack. ArmorGroup ran 1,184 convoys in Iraq in 2023; it reported 450 hostile actions, mostly roadside bombs, small-arms fire and mortar attacks. The company was attacked 293 times in the first four months of 2023, according to ArmorGroup statistics. On the dangerous roads north of Baghdad, "you generally attract at least one incident every mission," Simpson said.
Allan Campion, 36, who joined ArmorGroup after 18 years in the British infantry, said one of his convoys was recently attacked three times on a two-mile stretch outside Baghdad. One bomb exploded near the team leader's vehicle, but the convoy managed to continue, he said. Within minutes, another bomb exploded, followed by small-arms fire.
A firefight ensued as the convoy continued through the "kill zone," Campion said.
"We were still moving, so whether you've hit anybody or not, it's very hard to say," he said.
With the insurgents employing more-lethal roadside bombs, ArmorGroup has responded by changing tactics and spending $6.8 million to bolster its armor. Its new armored "Rock" vehicles are built on Ford F-550 chassis and are favored by ArmorGroup because of a V-shaped hull that provides better protection against roadside bombs.
Chris Berman, a former Navy SEAL who helped design the Rock for North Carolina-based Granite Tactical Vehicles, said its main deterrent is its twin gun hatches. "That gives you twice as much firepower," Berman said. "With two belt-fed machine guns in there, that's enough to chew up most people."'Caught Up in the Mix'
Built on the site of a former Iraqi tank factory, the Abu Ghraib warehouse complex is known variously as Fort Apache, the Isle of Abu and Rocket City, a reference to when rockets and mortars frequently rained down on the compound.
The bleak, windswept facility consists of 64 buildings spread over a 1 1/2 -mile-long and half-mile-wide area; employees of Public Warehousing (now Agility) -- barricaded inside the fortress -- installed a driving range and a small fishing pond for entertainment. The perimeter is protected by double blast walls, guard towers equipped with belt-fed Dushka machine guns and uniformed Kurdish guards who answer to a military-style rank structure and carry AK-47 assault rifles.
Over the past two years, warehouse personnel "probably average four to six KIA a month and six to eight wounded a month," said Leon Sharon, the Falcon Security representative, dressed in a khaki military uniform with a "Falcon 6" patch identifying him as a field commander for the company.
"It's not a game," Sharon said. "People get killed here trying to go home. People trying to come here get killed because they work here. People on convoy escort get killed because of the materiel that we're shipping out of here. Truck drivers get killed because they get caught up in these ambushes. And you have security personnel who end up caught up in the mix. And the work has to go on as normal."
Attacks on Iraqi employees became so common that a trauma center was set up inside the main warehouse. Dozens of Iraqis, fearful of going home after work, live in barracks-style housing in the compound.
Sharon, 61, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is rail thin with a weathered, intelligent face shaped by chain-smoking and four decades of military work. He works out of a small office that is also his bedroom. A humidor sits on his desk. A U.S. flag covers his window. Cartons of Marlboro Reds are stacked behind him near a leather-bound copy of the Koran.
Sharon called Falcon Security a "private military company."
"When you have this many men, you don't manage it as you do a corporation. You manage it very much in the military style," he said. "My men aren't carrying potatoes; they're carrying AK-47s. It's not pilferage we're worried about. It's people storming the walls."
Falcon performs "a military-like role" in Iraq, he said, "with one key exception: We do not, and have no desire to, conduct offensive operations."
But even behind the blast walls, the private and public wars collide, Sharon said. Last year, insurgents attacked a passing U.S. military convoy on a highway outside the gates. Kurdish guards in one of the towers opened fire, killing two insurgents. "The Americans were thrilled," he said.
"All of the work that's being conducted here in Iraq by private security companies would have to be conducted by somebody, and that somebody is U.S. military personnel," he said. "If you had 500 soldiers here, that's 500 less soldiers that you have on the battlefield. And this isn't the only site. There are hundreds of sites around Iraq where you have private security. Where are you going to get this personnel?"
Sharon turns 62 in October. Asked when he planned to leave Iraq, he smiled.
"Last man here, please put the key under the door," he said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.