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Dina Rasor Headshot

Way Beyond Blackwater: The Public is Finally Learning the Truth About Private Security Contractors

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Another day, another story about an out of control private security contractor shooting. This time it is an Australian run company, Unity Resources Group, was returning from escorting a USAID subcontractor convoy. They shot two women in a car. The Washington Post reports, "'A vehicle got close to them and they opened fire on it randomly as if they were in the middle of a confrontation. You won't find a head. The brain is scattered on the ground,' said Ahmed Kadhim Hussein, a police officer at the scene. 'I am shaking as I am trying to describe to you what happened. We are not able to eat. These were innocent people. Is it so natural for them to shoot innocent people?'"

The public is finally learning about these companies and the havoc that they have been wreaking on the Iraqi citizens for years. Many of these past attacks were not routinely reported or reported on by the media. Since the Blackwater shooting in September, the Iraqi government has found its voice and the press is now paying attention to these attacks.

Private Security Contractors, part of what I call the War Service Industry, don't just guard diplomats. Except for KBR who has their security provided by the U.S. Army, every contractor in Iraq who delivers a service or builds something needs private security contractors to protect them. So these security contractors escort company convoys of supplies and equipment, protect job sites and escort convoys of personnel. The problem is how they do it. They have a different goal than the U.S. Army. The Army is trying to secure areas and win over various sectarian factions but the private security contractors are just trying to get their job done...such as moving equipment and people from point A to point B and they don't want to deal with the Iraqis on the road.

While researching my book, I came across Will Hough, a very impressive ex-Marine who was hired as a security guard for the now defunct Custer Battles company. He mainly did convoy work and was very upset on how his company treated the Iraqis while running their convoys. I was so moved by his story that I devoted a whole chapter on his experiences. Here is an excerpt:

Custer Battles hired Kurdish guards to go along with the American guards on these convoys. Many of the Kurds were barely out of their teens, and Hough worried for them. According to Hough, Custer Battles sometimes would only supply one helmet per SUV, and the American guard usually wore it. Bothered by this, Hough tried to scrounge up enough helmets for the young Kurds. He did not feel right leaving them so unprotected.

When he was traveling with his Kurdish guards through various towns providing protection to convoys, Hough told them not to shoot at any of the civilians unless they were fired upon. They were confused and told him they were taught by the other American guards to shoot randomly at people while going through the town to keep everyone back from the convoys and it was all right to hit civilians with gunfire. It was important to remember that these Kurds had a natural animosity toward Iraqis because of Saddam's killings and suppression of the Kurds. However, Hough was stricken when he heard this because he knew that would just cause the civilians to attack them the next time the convoys went through the town. He strongly told them not to shoot civilians. He taught them hand signals to show civilians on the street and in cars, they would understand, to "keep back from the convoy."

According to Hough, shortly after that, a leader of one of the convoys told his crew, to not let cars near the convoy on the road and to shoot any care that got near them even if they had families in them. After the mission, one of the crew told Hough he shot up at least four cars with families in them because they came near the convoy and the cars had crashed and burned.

Hough was in Iraq in the summer of 2004. These private security convoys have been breeding hatred throughout the occupation. The stories are now coming out to the public but it is too little, too late to curb them in and convince the Iraqi population and their government that we don't condone the random shooting of civilians. It has been going on for years. Now Congress is scrambling to find some effective legal solution to the problem. It is another example of unintended consequences in using contractors in the war zone. It was not well thought out by the military and the State Department and now the U.S. is reaping the hatred that the contractors have bred among the Iraqis. How would you like to be a U.S. Army foot soldier who has to patrol a town that the private security contractor had just gone through, firing at civilians?

If you want to learn more, go to my website www.followthemoneyproject.org .