Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Peru mercenaries battle boredom in Green Zone

AFP , BAGHDAD

"No women, no beer, no fiesta," a Peruvian mercenary said gloomily as he manned his post inside the Iraqi capital's ultra-protected Green Zone.

Around a thousand of his countrymen along with a handful of Chileans make up a security detail in this immense fortified sector of Baghdad, which houses the Iraqi government's offices and the US and British embassies.

The South Americans comprise a "third rung" of security, behind Iraqi regular soldiers and a unit of Georgians, members of the US-led coalition forces from the former Soviet republic.

The Peruvians are employed by the private US security firm Triple Canopy based in Virginia.

About a year ago, the Peruvians replaced the famed Nepalese Gurkhas who had served in the British army, but not because the South Americans were judged more competent. They replaced the Nepalese because they were cheaper.

A Western private security operative from a modern army -- such as an American, a Briton or a South African -- can earn US$8,000 to US$16,000 per month, one private security official said. The Gurkhas were earning around US$3,000 per month. The Peruvians earn about one-third of that.

Other firms employ Colombians, Mexicans or Panamanians. The South Americans, who are all former soldiers aged between 25 and 40, mostly come from poor, rural areas. Their missions last one year, with a break after six months for home leave.

In their position as the third line of defense, the Peruvians are not typically exposed to grave danger. Most have never left the Green Zone and some ask: "What's the Red Zone like?" in reference to the rest of Iraq.

Indeed, their primary enemy is the heat, as most are posted in exposed guard posts. Boredom is their other key enemy.

"There is nothing to do here," one man said.

"We watch television," said another. "But we'd like to be able to go out a bit at night."

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