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Iraq Mercenaries

Larisa Alexandrovna

April 9, 2007

Former spook Bob Baer has a tremendous piece in Vanity Fair about the private military now running amok in Iraq, including Erinys. Just to remind you, the former Russian KGB agent - Alexander Litvinenko - murdered with polonium-210 while living in London was an employee of Erinys. If you remember, Erinys was also one of the radiation sites investigators picked up on their trail of the polonium assassins. While Erinys does not figure into the this piece in any big meaningful way, it still adds an interesting series of questions in the world of private mercenaries.

Now for Baer's piece...

"I knew who [Tim] Spicer was. He'd popped up on the C.I.A.'s radar after he retired from the British Army and went to work, in 1996, as the C.E.O. of Sandline International, a private military company offering "operational support" to "legitimate governments." A year later Spicer was in Papua New Guinea, where he fielded a mercenary army for the government in order to protect a multi-national copper-mining company. After Spicer was expelled, he moved on to Sierra Leone, this time helping to ship arms to coup plotters. Spicer's name resurfaced in 2004 in connection with a putsch aimed at Equatorial Guinea, allegedly led by Simon Mann, his friend, former army colleague, and onetime business associate. Though questioned by British officials, Spicer was not implicated in the incident.

But then, somehow, two months later, Spicer's company, known as Aegis Defence Services, landed a $293 million Pentagon contract to coordinate security for reconstruction projects, as well as support for other private military companies, in Iraq. This effectively put him in command of the second-largest foreign armed force in the country—behind America's but ahead of Britain's. These men aren't officially part of the Coalition of the Willing, because they're all paid contractors—the Coalition of the Billing, you might call it—but they're a crucial part of the coalition's forces nonetheless."


"In November of 2005 a disgruntled Aegis ex-employee posted a so-called "trophy video" on the Internet depicting Aegis contractors—Tim Spicer's men—shooting at Iraqis in civilian cars. In one sequence, the Aegis team opens fire with an automatic weapon at an approaching silver Mercedes. The Mercedes rams a taxi, sending the taxi's occupants running. In another sequence, an Aegis employee fires at a white sedan, running it off the road. Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" provides the soundtrack. Aegis subsequently conducted an investigation and concluded that the actions represented "legitimate operations" undertaken in compliance with the rules of engagement. Aegis argued further that the video was "taken out of context" and noted that there was no evidence that civilians had been killed. The Pentagon looked into the video and declined to take further steps.

According to a February 2006 Government Accountability Office report, there were approximately 48,000 private military contractors in Iraq, employed by 181 different companies. There may now be many more. These are the kinds of people Tim Spicer and Aegis are supposed to coordinate. The bulk of the military contractors are American and British, with a sprinkling of other nationalities. Formal oversight is lax, to put it mildly. Many are retired from elite units such as the British Special Air Service or the U.S. Special Forces. According to a report in The Economist, a former British official who now heads a trade association for private military companies estimates that mercenaries are Britain's largest export to Iraq. Not food, medicine, or construction material—mercenaries."


"After U.S. forces took Baghdad, in April of 2003, Aegis, like every other private military company in the world, set out to elbow its way in. The pot of gold was the $18.4 billion reconstruction fund. And that money was in all likelihood just the beginning. If Iraq could be stabilized, there was the prospect of an oil boom such as the world had rarely seen.

Two things happened which, together, led to Spicer's big break. The first occurred in March of 2004, when four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and murdered in Fallujah. The Pentagon knew it couldn't dispense with military contractors, but it now had leverage to make them play by the military's rules. Henceforward, contractors would keep the military informed of their movements. They would also carry transponders, allowing the military to locate them in an emergency. What the Pentagon needed was a single military contractor to manage the new regime."


"The private military company Erinys also had a South Africa problem. In 2004 an Erinys subcontractor, François Strydom, was killed by Iraqi insurgents. It turned out that Strydom was a former member of the notorious Koevoet, an arm of apartheid South Africa's counter-insurgency campaign in what is now Namibia. There have been press reports of a link between Erinys Iraq and Ahmad Chalabi (the onetime head of the Iraqi National Congress, which was a conduit for the fabricated intelligence used to justify the Iraq war), which both Erinys Iraq and Chalabi deny. After securing an $80 million contract to guard Iraq's oil infrastructure in 2003, Erinys did hire many of the soldiers from Chalabi's U.S.-trained Free Iraqi Forces as guards. Chalabi himself eventually became acting oil minister. He was probably not the best custodian of Iraq's national treasure. (Among other things, in 1992 he had been convicted in Jordan of defrauding the country's Petra Bank of at least $30 million.) His foot soldiers were not all that trustworthy, either. When I was in Iraq with Chalabi in the mid-1990s, he was trying to sell his army to Washington as an insurgent force that, properly equipped, could one day march on Baghdad. It was nonsense. When the Kurds took on Saddam's V Corps north of Kirkuk in March of 1995, overrunning three Iraqi divisions, Chalabi's men sat out the fighting.

I wasn't surprised that Chalabi's army never morphed into Delta Force. An F.B.I. official recently back from Iraq told me that agents billeted next to Chalabi's mercenaries (now no longer employed by Erinys Iraq) had had a real problem with them. They were stealing everything, from F.B.I. computers to batteries for helicopters.

In an odd but lethal twist, it came out last November that the rogue K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko had visited the London office of Erinys shortly before his death, by means of radiation poisoning, leaving behind traces of polonium 210.

Step anywhere inside the world of private military companies and you're suddenly in a demimonde where everything seems connected to everything else. When retired general Jay Garner arrived in Iraq in April of 2003 to become the country's civilian administrator, he hired two former South African commandos as part of his security detail. They were known to Garner only as Lion and Louwtjie, and they worked for a company called Meteoric Tactical Solutions. (Where do they get these names?) After Garner was replaced by Paul Bremer, the two commandos went to work for Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner, whom Bremer had brought in to create an Iraqi police force. Under a $600,000 contract, Meteoric agreed to provide Kerik's protection and to help train the police."


:: Article nr. 32006 sent on 10-apr-2007 15:11 ECT


Link: www.rawstory.com/showarticle.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.atlargely.com%2F2007%2F04%

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