Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Private Security in Iraq: Who Can You Trust? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al Awsat – It would seem that private security in Iraq generally, and in Baghdad in particular, which emerged as a new phenomena over the past two years has transformed into what could be described as tribal security. The importance of tribal affiliation is evident in the selection process of security teams that are responsible for protecting various figures.

Today in Iraq, it is evident that there has been an irregular spread of private security convoys to the extent that one cannot distinguish between those carrying government officials, members of parliament or even a politician who heads a major- or small-scale political party.

The reality in Iraq is that personal bodyguards are no longer only used by political figures, as a large number of traders and businessmen rely on bodyguards to protect their own lives and guarantee the safety of their family members. Traffic is often disrupted by an armored vehicle that is followed and preceded by trucks carrying men who fire shots in various directions to warn others, including potential hostage-takers and assassins, of their presence.

The action of any security group depends on the identity of the person that they are protecting, which also dictates the approach that they adopt on the street. Furthermore, not all security groups are made up of Iraqis, as the country is encumbered by foreign companies that provide private protection for politicians and businessmen.

Last week, Reuters reported that the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Mahmoud al Mashhadani had stated that a specialized security committee would reach a deal with a South African security company to protect the Iraqi President and members of the Iraqi parliament. The statement was met by criticism from parliament members, who preferred that government authorities should be entitled with “protecting the people’s representatives”.

Media figure and spokesperson for Mahmoud al Mashhadani, Mohannad Abdul Jabbar, told Asharq Al Awsat, “The Iraqi Parliament Speaker announced the new security measure following a failed assassination attempt on his life. There are some technical security aspects that are unrelated to the parliament speaker and are left to the security commission which includes; the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense and Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al Attiyah.” He pointed out that, “The parliament speaker and even members of parliament do not have detailed information on this subject.”

Abdul Jabbar explained, “All that we know is that there are talks for an agreement with a foreign company from South Africa, exclusively to protect the parliamentary building. Concerned authorities are to be entitled with signing contracts and similar issues. ”

Abdul Jabbar continued, “The protection of the Green Zone in general, which includes the parliament buildings, is the responsibility of security forces from various nationalities. Within the Green Zone, some areas are protected by Nepali, Indian, Romanian, or Ukrainian security companies.” He pointed out that, “The entrances and exits of the building are currently protected by Nepalese forces; however protecting the building from inside is the responsibility of the Iraqi government.”

Abdul Jabbar explained that the reason that foreign companies are assigned the task of protecting parliament is “to prevent any infiltration of terrorist elements or proponents of certain parties. The representatives of these companies deal with individuals equally in terms of the accuracy of inspections that are carried out and checking entry passes etc.” He pointed out that, “If the task was assigned to an Iraqi body, it may be the case that representatives would be biased. Foreign companies are impartial and protect all parties.”

Asharq Al Awsat spoke to the Commander of the Interior Ministry, Major General Mohammed Nema who said that, “The protection of state officials is the responsibility of the government. Either the state allocates a security team to protect every official or the official would choose the team himself. The state pays the salaries of these guards as long as the government is the sole decision-maker as to the number of guards assigned to each government official.” He added, “The state allocates a number of individuals to protect any minister and the Ministry of Defense pays their salaries. If they wanted to appoint an additional number of guards, then it is the ministry’s responsibility to provide funding. If a minister were to leave the ministry for any reason, the number allocated to protect him would be reduced.”

Major General Nema elaborated, “Such matters are out of one’s control, especially with regard to the number of protection personnel. Concerning members of parliament, the government pays every member a monthly sum estimated at approximately 13 million Iraqi Dinars (US $9000). From this amount, the member of parliament is to allocate the monthly salary of his security team as well as the maintenance of cars allocated to him. He is free to give them the amount he decides as a monthly salary.” He pointed out that there are some deputies or ministers who are financially supported by their parties, thus they appoint a larger security team for themselves. He adds, “I have a 12-member security team that accompanies me whenever I go out.”

Major General Nema added, “It is assumed that the state would grant an armored and bullet-proof car for each minister, member of parliament, under secretary of state and even general manager. However, the financial capacities of the government would not allow for this high number of armored vehicles that cost at least US $15,000 each.” Major General Nema confirmed that there are risks involved regarding the presence of foreign or Iraqi security companies. He said, “There are 36 foreign and Iraqi security companies that are officially licensed by the Interior Ministry. Conversely, there are over 200 unlicensed foreign and Iraqi companies, moreover a large part of the employees of these companies are involved in terrorist activities. To us, they are violators of the law as they are not licensed by the ministry. This is why the ministry has its set of procedures against these companies.” Finally, Major General Nema stated, “The weapons that are allowed to be used by governmental or security personnel are light weapons; rifles and machine guns. They are not allowed to use PKC machine guns.”

Asharq Al Awsat asked a number of members of parliament and the Minister of Human Rights about the sizes of their security teams.

Dr. Fouad Massoum, the head of the Kurdish parliamentary bloc, emphasized that the team appointed to protect him is made up of members of the Peshmerga forces, and that the Kurdish government is responsible for paying its salaries. He said, “There are some members that I had selected based on my personal knowledge and on recommendations made by close acquaintances. Some of the members were directly recruited from the Peshmerga forces. I completely trust them and I am confident that they are well-trained.”

Dr Fouad Massoum explained that the members of his security team are paid between US $250 and $350 per month, and that members of the team are police officers. He also noted that the team is armed with licensed light weapons.

MP for the National Iraqi List, Iyad Jamaluddin, explained that he had personally selected his security men. He said, “The majority of them are relatives and acquaintances that I confide in. I trust them with my life.” He added that he first chose his bodyguards then presented them to the Ministry of Defense to be appointed as staff of the ministry, from which they would directly receive their salaries.”

Jamaluddin stated however, “I provide the wages of a few members of the security team, as the figure given by the state is insufficient.” An MP from the Dulaim region, who spoke to Asharq Al Awsat on condition of anonymity, admitted that he had recruited all his guards from his own tribe. He said, “All of them are my cousins, and this is to ensure that nobody can infiltrate the team to endanger my life.”

Iraqi Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Salim, is the most committed official to the directives of the government. She said, “My security team is made up of 20 guards and they are paid by the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Human Rights.” She noted that she had personally appointed her own team as she knows some of them and others were recommended to her by close acquaintances. The criteria also depended upon the efficiency of combat skills.

Salim added, “This is all useless… Why is there all this focused interest in the protection of ministers? Everybody should be protected, with priority given to the citizens and then ministers, or else equally. What is the point of protecting a minister when citizens are exposed to terrorism?”

A member of the Iraq security authorities who was an adviser to the Interior Ministry summarized the policy employed to protect parties and leading figures saying, “Parties with armed militias are protected by these militias. For example, elements of the Badr Corps are given the responsibility of protecting the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abdul Aziz al Hakim and his son Ammar. It also guards SCIRI’s headquarters and members of parliament from the political party. The same applies to members of the Sadr bloc, who are protected by elements of al Mahdi Army, who had been appointed in the Ministry of Defense. Members of the Iraqi Accord Front are protected by Sunni guards who were also appointed in the Ministry of Defense as officers and soldiers.”

A former adviser in the Interior Ministry, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Asharq Al Awsat, “The security team of the former Prime Minister Dr. Iyad Allawi, was made up of employees of the Ministry of Defense. The team consisted of Kurds, Arabs, Shia, Sunnis, Turkmen and Christians.”

ArmorGroup is one of the western companies that play a significant role in protection in Iraq. On its official website, it says, “ArmorGroup’s core business across the Middle East is devising and implementing solutions to complex security and safety problems in the region’s more stable and modern countries as well as those which are the most hostile and chaotic.”

It states that the company, “offers advanced security and specialist unit training for the local Defense Ministry in Iraq and security management, protective security details and convoy security escorts to many of the logistics companies operating in support of the essential reconstruction and humanitarian re-supply efforts in Iraq.”

The official website adds that ArmorGroup has also played an important role in supporting reconstruction, development and humanitarian projects across the region, providing valuable mine action and local national training services from Lebanon to Iraq and Afghanistan.