Socialist Worker

Iraq: Rise of the private armies

Issue No. 2073

Security contractors have immunity under a law imposed by the US on Iraq

Security contractors have immunity under a law imposed by the US on Iraq

British charity War On Want has been tracking the growth of private military contractors over the last few years. In a report released earlier this year, Corporate Mercenaries – The Threat of Private Military and Security Companies, the charity condems what it describes as the “privatisation of war”. The major corporate mercenary firms are:


Blackwater was founded in 1997 in the US. Gary Jackson, its president, declared that he would like to have the “largest, most professional private army in the world”.

Since June 2004 the US government has paid Blackwater over £157 million to provide “diplomatic security”. Blackwater has also won contracts to combat opium cultivation in Afghanistan and to support a commando force in Azerbaijan.

The Iraqi government is demanding the firm’s expulsion from the country after its guards gunned down 17 civilians in a rampage through Baghdad.

DynCorp International

DynCorp is owned by Veritas Capital, a private equity firm. Its revenue was just under £1 billion in 2006, and it provides a range of military services including building camps, patrolling borders and protecting Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

The company has acquired a reputation for aggressive behaviour. DynCorp employees in Bosnia were implicated in prostitution rings trading girls as young as 12, while others were accused of filming the rape of two women.

Military Professional Resources Inc

Founded in 1987 by retired US military officers, MPRI is part of megacorporation L-3 Communications, whose government services companies brought in revenues of £1 billion in 2005.

MPRI provided training to the Kosovo Liberation Army in the run up to the 1999 Nato bombing campaign against Serbia. Its collaboration with the Colombian military has also widely been seen as questionable.

Vinnell Corporation

Vinnell was directly involved in US military and intelligence operations in South East Asia from 1965 to 1975. At the height of the Vietnam War it had more than 5,000 employees in Vietnam.

It was described by a Pentagon official as “our own little mercenary army in Vietnam... We used them to do things we either didn’t have the manpower to do ourselves, or because of legal problems.”

Vinnell has been awarded a £23.5 million contract to train the Iraqi army, and has been involved in counternarcotics missions in Colombia.

Aegis Defence Services (Britain)

The firm’s 2003 turnover of £554,000 rose to £62 million in 2005, three quarters of which came from work in Iraq. It became one of the world’s largest private armies with the awarding of a £144 million contract in Iraq in May 2004.

The company is run by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, former chief executive of Sandline International, which was involved in the 1998 “arms to Africa” scandal during the Sierra Leone civil war.

ArmorGroup (Britain)

ArmorGroup has provided “protective services” to the extractive industries since its original incarnation as Defence Systems Limited in 1981.

Its turnover increased from £35 million in 2001 to £114.5 million in 2005. The foreign office and department for international development awarded ArmorGroup security contracts in Kabul, Baghdad and Basra, as well as control of the Iraqi police “mentoring programme”.

Northbridge Services Group (Britain)

When the US was deliberating over whether to invade in Liberia in 2003, Northbridge said it could deploy between 500 and 2,000 men to “arrest Liberian president Charles Taylor” for a fee of £2 million.

In 2003, the British government chastised the company after reports that it was a mercenary on behalf of the Ivory Coast government. Northbridge expressed surprise given foreign secretary Jack Straw’s previous support for the use of such forces.

Control Risks Group (Britain)

Control Risks works around the world primarily with the energy sector, but also with the pharmaceuticals, maritime and telecommunications sectors.

The company’s turnover increased from £47 million in 2003 to £80 million in 2004.

Control Risks has been employed in Iraq by the US department of defence, USAid and United Nations bodies to provide security and to distribute the new Iraqi and Afghan currencies.

The British foreign office has used Control Risks to provide armed guards for staff in Baghdad and Basra.

Erinys International

Erinys was formed in 2003 when the US military awarded it security contracts worth £50 million to defend oil sites and pipelines in Iraq.

Led by a former political adviser to Angolan right wing leader Jonas Savimbi, Erinys protects oil interests in Nigeria and has contracts from major corporations including AMEC, BHP Billiton, Anvil Mining, Siemens and the BBC.

The report by War on Want, Corporate Mercenaries – The Threat of Private Military and Security Companies, is available from »

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