Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: Inexperience fuels private security firms blunders


Incidents like the Blackwater shooting in Iraq four weeks ago happen because arrogant companies are hiring inexperienced staff, a leading security specialist said, as others defended the industry.

"Some of the large companies don't give a monkey's because they are so arrogant," said Will Geddes, the managing director of British consultancy International Corporate Protection that works in Iraq reviewing contractors' operations.

"The problems come when individuals are presented with situations and they don't have previous experience to call upon," he said.

"Then they have no point of reference and that is why you possibly hear of civilians being killed or injured, because people don't have the experience," Geddes said.

On Sept. 16, Blackwater guards protecting a US State Department convoy unleashed a hail of bullets in a crowded Baghdad square and killed as many as 17 civilians when they thought they were being ambushed.

Last Tuesday, two Iraqi women were shot dead when one of them drove her taxi too close to a convoy of the Australian-run firm Unity Resources Group in the capital's busy Karrada neighborhood.

The shootings have outraged Iraqis at the same time as lifting the fog of war off the massive role the multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry plays in the war-shattered country.

Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld is largely credited with having turned the practice of employing civilians from private firms to do war's dirty work into the giant profession it is today.

Now many are questioning whether the estimated 30,000 private security contractors seemingly compensating for an overstretched army in Iraq are up to the job and if things go wrong how they can be made more accountable.

Private security contractors in Iraq have closed ranks since the Blackwater shooting, but those willing to talk insist they abide by their strict rules on the use of force and see no need to change the law.

"We ensure that our employees have extensive operational experience which gives them the maturity to react effectively if things go wrong," said Patrick Toyne Sewell, from one of Iraq's biggest operators, ArmorGroup.

"At the heart of our businesses are our people who are vetted to ensure that their maturity, ethical suitability and operational track record do not expose them or our clients during an incident," he said.

Geddes, however, painted a different picture and pointed out that unfortunately it only takes one "weakest link" employee in a tight situation and events can take a drastic turn for the worse.

"You have to behave responsibly and respectfully in the environment you are travelling in and be very, very conscious that you are not pissing off the locals unnecessarily," he said.

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