The private security industry in Iraq has ballooned to a record high of 54 companies but will not be subjected to extra scrutiny in the wake of the murders in Baghdad – providing it abides by Iraqi law, a senior official told the Guardian.
Despite lingering distrust, officials acknowledge the sector as an "imposition" necessary to facilitate Iraq's reconstruction, said interior ministry spokesman, Abdul Kareem Kalaph.
Foreign investment is widely hailed as Iraq's future lifeblood and despite security gains nationwide, it is still virtually impossible for investors and donors to move around Iraq without security details. The man accused of shooting dead his two colleagues, Daniel Fitzsimons, had returned to make a living by escorting engineers and investors. The two men he is accused of killing, Paul McGuigan, and Darren Hoare, were involved in similar work.
Experienced operatives, many of them ex-special forces soldiers are paid £400 each per day to escort clients around the country. An increasing amount of security work is being done outside the Green Zone, with heavily armoured convoys shuttling between Baghdad and the oil cities of Kirkuk in the north and Basra in southern Iraq.
The lucrative private security industry, which is centred in Baghdad's Green Zone, is believed to have enough collective firepower to outgun most Iraqi military units. Both their weapons and their impunity had been a source of resentment among Iraqi military leaders and the government. Since January, the activities of all western companies have been subjected to the sole scrutiny of Iraqi law after being indemnified from local prosecutions for the last six years.
The largest, Blackwater Worldwide, lost its licence to operate in Iraq earlier this year after four of its operatives were implicated in the slayings of 17 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad round-about near an entrance to the Green Zone. Blackwater rebadged its operations under a new name, Xe, and continues to perform some contract work with the US state department.
Last week, two former Blackwater employees alleged in sworn statements filed in the US federal court that the company's founder, Erik Prince "viewed himself as a Christian Crusader who wants to eliminate Muslims everywhere". The two, who have filed their claims anonymously, as part of a civil lawsuit prepared by several Iraqis, also accused Prince and other executives of randomly killing Iraqi civilians. The company has denied the claims.
Kalaph said the government viewed Sunday's shooting as an "isolated incident" and said that firms who "abided by Iraqi law are free to stay".
"There are now 54 private companies operating in Iraq, providing escort services, on site services and private close personal protection for businessmen," he said. "They are subject to laws and conditions of the Iraqi government and have been since 1 January. We cannot prevent them from working here to support private businessmen."
Sunday's shooting was the second murder in the Green Zone in the past three months. In May an American business contractor, Jim Kitterman, 60, was found with his throat cut. Five Americans were arrested in connection with the killing but later released without charge.
A security company situation report circulated on Sunday said Fitzsimons had been disarmed near the ArmorGroup compound by American soldiers, then handed over to Green Zone police, who transferred him to Iraqi forces.
In Afghanistan, there is concern that the problems in Iraq are being mirrored in a country where business for hired protection is burgeoning as the Taliban becomes emboldened. Afghanistan is proving to be a lure for ex-serviceman, where low pay, long tours of duty and lots of bars can make for a lethal combination for the hundreds of armed private security guards working in Kabul.
Thousands more foreigners, all requiring the services of close protection teams, have poured into the country to staff new development projects or fill up spaces in enlarged diplomatic missions.
But the companies say that most of the new opportunities are simply replacing contracts that are being wound down in Iraq, leading to aggressive pitches for business in Afghanistan.
"Market conditions are driving rate of pay down and length of time up. Increasingly it doesn't matter how good you are, it matters how cheap you are," the manager of a security company with operations in Afghanistan told the Guardian.
Steps have been taken to clean-up the image of an industry which enjoyed free-for-all conditions in the years immediately after 2001 when Kabul attracted hundreds of supposedly ex military personnel who set up companies and mini arsenals of weapons without any oversight at all.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016