HOW OFTEN do you hear foreigners who are killed or injured in Iraq described as "contractors"? US campaigner and film director Michael Moore is one of those who has dug behind the headlines to find out what is going on:
'First can we stop the Orwellian language and start using the proper names for things? Those are not "contractors" in Iraq. They are not there to fix a roof or to pour concrete in a driveway.
They are mercenaries and soldiers of fortune. They are there for the money, and the money is very good if you live long enough to spend it. Halliburton is not a "company" doing business in Iraq. It is a war profiteer, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans.
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy". They are the revolution and their numbers will grow-and they will win. When you watch a report "from Iraq" what you are getting is the press release handed out by the US occupation force and repeated to you as "news".
I currently have two cameramen/reporters doing work for me in Iraq. They Fed Ex the footage back to me each week. That's right, Fed Ex. Who said we haven't brought freedom to Iraq!
The funniest story my guys tell me is how when they fly into Baghdad they don't have to show a passport or go through immigration. Why not? Because they have not travelled from a foreign country-they're coming from America to America, a place that is ours, a new American territory called Iraq.'
Apartheid's men are back again
SUCH IS the crisis facing the occupation forces in Iraq that they are relying heavily on mercenaries. Some are former members of so called elite units-forces which the world over specialise in assassination, torture and fighting dirty wars.
Others are unemployed ex-soldiers from dozens of countries seduced by the promise of well paid and low risk "security work". British companies have joined the scramble, led by US-based Blackwater Security Consulting, to win contracts. They expect to grab £1 billion in profits this year.
Many of the mercenaries fighting in Iraq learned their trade while propping up vicious dictatorships, serving in the Chilean army under General Pinochet or protecting the apartheid regime in South Africa. Mercenaries are allowed to carry small arms and are now demanding the right to carry larger weapons. There is no figure for the number of Iraqis they have killed.
Campaigning journalist Paul Foot, writing in Private Eye, has exposed some of the thugs hired by one company, Erinys: "In January two South Africans working for Erinys suffered a bomb attack. Deon Gouws was a former member of Valkplaas, a notorious 'hit squad' implicated in many murders. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted him amnesty after he admitted involvement in more than 40 petrol bombings of political activists' homes. Francois Strydom was a former member of Koevoet, a South African counter-insurgency unit in Namibia with a reputation for murder and torture."
Erinys has a total of 14,000 mercenaries in Iraq. Some of them are Iraqis who are part of the private militia put together by US-backed Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi.
Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt holds up Erinys as a model for how British companies can benefit from the "reconstruction" of Iraq. It was among the sponsors of the "Iraq Procurement 2004-Meet the Buyers" conference, which was held in London with backing from New Labour.
Another mercenary outfit is the Hart Group. It is registered in Bermuda, but it is run by former SAS and Scots Guards officer Richard Bethell. He is the son of aristocrat and former Tory MEP Lord Westbury.
Bethell has some experience of using military muscle to defend the oil multinationals. He used to run Defence Systems Colombia (DSC), which was contracted by British oil giant BP to defend its operations in Colombia. DSC trained local police in "counter-guerrilla tactics". An Amnesty International report stated:
"In recent years members of the local community involved in legitimate protest against the impact of the oil companies, including BP, have frequently been labelled subversive and subsequently been victims of human rights violations by the security forces and their paramilitary allies."
The Hart Group also hires thugs from the apartheid regime in South Africa. Gray Branfield, who was employed by the Hart Group, was recently killed in the Iraqi town of Kut. He was a former member of Project Barnacle, a secret South African death squad. In 1985 he helped plan a raid by the South African Defence Forces on Gaborone in which 14 people, including a five year old child, were killed.
When children are legitimate targets
ONE HUNDRED dead children under the age of 13. Forty six of them under five. Hospital workers in Fallujah reported those sickening casualties on Sunday from the US's assault on the city. General John Abazaid, the head of the US army's central command, claimed his forces have a "judicious use of force". He said that of the 600 to 700 people killed in Fallujah in two weeks, "95 percent were legitimate targets".
At least 303 of them were in fact women and children. US soldiers killed the mother of six year old Haider Abdel-Wahab while she was hanging out the laundry, as well as Haider's father. Haider and his brothers were buried alive after a US missile hit their house. One man was found dead face down at the gate to his house while inside his terrified daughters screamed, "Baba, baba" ("Daddy, daddy"). US troops fired on and killed ambulance crews.
US soldiers beat a man to death in the city of Kut on Tuesday of last week after he refused to remove a picture of Shia Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr from his car. That repression is fuelling the resistance. Ten US marines were killed in gun battles over the weekend. This brings to 99 the number of US soldiers killed in April alone.
Five British soldiers were injured in the town of Al-Amara last weekend and three were injured, one seriously, in Basra on Monday.