The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Mercenaries in Iraq:
Another bloody weapon in Bush's Iraq armory

Apr 19, 2004

On March 31, the U.S. news media widely broadcast gruesome images of four charred bodies being mutilated in Fallujah. The media reported that the bodies belonged to American "civilians." But for the most part, the reports obscured what these four individuals had been doing in Iraq.

In fact they were mercenaries.

According to news reports, there are an estimated 18,000 non-Iraqi "private security workers," that is, mercenaries, in Iraq. They are employed by at least two dozen companies calling themselves "security" or "risk management" firms, mostly based in the U.S. and Britain.

These companies pay the mercenaries they hire up to 1,000 dollars a day, and they charge their clients up to 2,000 dollars a day for each hired gun. If the Bush administration uses so many of these mercenaries instead of enlisted troops, it's obviously not to save money.

Rather, the use of mercenaries lets the U.S. hide a lot of what is going on in Iraq. Mercenaries don't appear in the official figures when they are killed. The four who were killed in Fallujah most probably would not even have been mentioned by the media if it weren't for the way their bodies were treated. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least 50 mercenaries have been killed so far in the Iraq war. According to the British press, 80 mercenaries were killed just in the beginning of April.

If this figure is hidden from sight, so also is the work the mercenaries carry out. It's true that some of these mercenaries are visible. Blackwater USA, the company that the four killed in Fallujah worked for, for example, happens to supply bodyguards for Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq. But the mercenaries carry out all kinds of other tasks, including covert "special operations" hidden from view.

In fact, these mercenaries are almost exclusively former Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Marines, CIA agents and British Special Air Services members – that is, soldiers or agents trained for, and involved in, such special operations.

Blackwater USA, which was founded in the mid-1990s by former Navy SEALs, makes no secret of the "expertise" of its operatives in special operations – to the contrary, it advertises it (the very word "blackwater" refers to covert operations undertaken at night by elite divers). According to the Chilean magazine Que Pasa, for example, Blackwater recently recruited, trained and sent to Iraq 122 former members of the Chilean military, who were involved in torture and other repressive practices during the military dictatorship that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. Similar revelations have come from South Africa, where former cops and soldiers implicated in human rights abuses during the apartheid era have apparently been recruited to work as mercenaries in Iraq.

The mercenaries have "expertise" in repression against a civilian population – this is exactly why they are being paid the big bucks.

How many mercenaries are involved in the ongoing house-to-house searches in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities? What kind of atrocities against the population are they committing? And how many of them are themselves getting killed in the process?

We don't know, because news reports, which tell us very little about the activities of the regular troops, tell us even less – usually nothing – about the activities of the mercenaries. But we have a good idea – given that what they did aroused a vicious hatred in the people of Fallujah.

In any case, it's obvious the Bush administration is using these costly mercenaries in its dirty war against the people of Iraq as a way to escape some of the scrutiny of public opinion here at home. But, as during the Viet Nam war three decades ago, the immunity from accountability that Bush hopes to maintain may not last very long – especially as the cost of this war keeps soaring, in terms of both money and human lives.