10 October 2007

Iraq and Private Security Firms

The Iraqi government's decision to consolidate control of private security contractors is enormous. Their success will make or break the government as the sovereign ruler of their country. The more the united States hinders the processes the longer America will be in Iraq.

Soverignty is most simply defined as the ability to monopolize violence within your territory. So far Iraq has not been able to do this. The American military has had control, at least nominal control, since the time of the invasion. It has parceled out pieces of control when appropriate but most violence has been outside of the control of the Iraqi government. Attempts to transfer control have had mixed results as a result of the varied abilities of the agencies that are enforcing the control.

Iraqi military units have been faced with a myriad of obstacles. Most of these are the result of lack of training and equipment. Also there are problems with factionalism and infiltration by insurgents. They cannot monopolize violence within Iraq on their own.

Primarily they rely on the American military to make up the difference. We too have had our shortcomings in Iraq. Simply stated there are not enough American's do the job and we are outside of our culture. Even combined with the Iraqi's we fall short of full control. (Despite amazing efforts by hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi soldiers.)

The difference between what the American and Iraqi forces can produce is made up by private security firms. Called mercineries in any other age. These men and women operate in the grey area of the war. They are employed by everyone from construction firms and oil companies to the State Department of the United States.

They operate to their own standards, under their own rules of engagement (ROE). The Iraqi government has set ROE for these firms but these standards have been put aside in the interest of keeping themselves and their clients alive. These firms lack two things that would allow them to operate under the same ROE as regular military forces in the country (these are very broad and intended to protect the soldier first and the civilian second). One is support. The second is supervision.

Security contractors operate without the support that regular military forces live by. They lack intelligence support, fire support, air support, and backup when they get in trouble (I'm sure but can't confirm if there are exceptions when transporting U.S. Government officials). For all intensive purposes these people are one their own when the stuff hits the fan. It is therefore easy to understand why they adopt shoot first ask questions second mentalities. This is reinforced by a lack of supervision.

Lack of supervision is the second largest thing that has created problems for the private security contractors in Iraq. As a result of U.S. Government rulings at the beginning of the occupation these companies have essentially operated above the law (could not be brought to trial by the Iraqi governement). I think most people can see how this leads quickly to a lack of restraint.

Now the Iraqi governement has chosen to change the tune and assert its supervision. It is a challenging fight to pick but now that they have started they must be successful. There are thre outcomes that I can see emerging from this confrontation.

The first is that the Iraqi government will assert control and the security contractors will face a reduced capacity because they cannot operate safely in Iraq under the restrictions placed on them. This would be a net minus at this point because these contractors do in fact fill a void. Regular military forces cannot at this point provide enough security to cover all of the diplomatic and reconstruction activity that is occurring. If these projects cease recovery may quite likely be further hindered.

The second outcome is that the Iraqi governement fails to assert its authority in a meaningful way. This would be catastrophic. They are making an assertion of their soverignty and a failure to follow through will make them a lame duck. After this violence will spiral as everyone else decides to take their piece of the pie by force (and their neighbors too if they can get away with it).

The last possible outcome would be Iraq successfully asserting their authority. This would be a very meaningful credibility gain.

There are several things that I think that the United States can do to assist in this process.

  1. Side with the Iraqi Government. If we are serious about them being effective they need to take control of the violence within their borders.
  2. Subsidize reparations to the families in the most recent incidents. This should be done in a manner that it doesn't look like the governement has paid out to anyone. There are caveats on this, it must be clear that there should not be an open season for demands of reparations for previous incidents. Also all contractors employed by the United States that this is the only get out of jail free card they are going to get.
  3. Make efforts to integrate the security forces into the larger security picture. This will help prevent later incidents.
In conclusion this fight is essential. The legitimacy of the Iraqi governement as a sovereign power is already shaky, loosing this fight will quicken a decline. It is in the best interests of the United States to assist the Iraqi governement in asserting itself. We must do this by helping to broker a settlement for the current incident, make it clear that from here on out Iraqi law on the subject is final and that we won't be bailing any one else out. The alternatives to failure here are more chaos from many directions.

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