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Private army heading to Iraq

Published time: July 22, 2011 21:47
Edited time: July 23, 2011 02:08
US troops stand to attention in front of American and Iraqi (R) flags during a handover ceremony near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija where the US military formally transferred Contingency Operating Location McHenry to Iraqi security forces on May 15, 2011 (AFP Photo / Ali Al-Saadi)

US troops stand to attention in front of American and Iraqi (R) flags during a handover ceremony near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija where the US military formally transferred Contingency Operating Location McHenry to Iraqi security forces on May 15, 2011 (AFP Photo / Ali Al-Saadi)

After years of American occupation in Iraq, the US military is finally expected to withdraw a large number of troops.

 But don’t worry, the State Department will still make sure the US provides a presence overseas, and yes, they will still have big guns.

As America readies for withdrawal, the State Department will take over and send more than 5,000 private security contractors to act as security for diplomats at oversea embassies in Iraq. And, despite an inquiry being conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the government is remaining mum on how this civilian army will actually operate.

“Our audit of the program is making no progress,” SIGIR’s Stuart Bowen tells Wired. His team has been attempting to dig info out of the State Department that will explain how the operation will actually be run, but despite the ongoing audit, the SIGIR is coming up empty handed.

Bowen tells Wired that he has repeatedly appealed to State Department Chief Patrick Kennedy for information, but, “Apparently, Ambassador Kennedy doesn’t want us doing the oversight that we believe is necessary and properly within our jurisdiction.”

“That hard truth is holding up work on important programs and contracts at a critical moment in the Iraq transition,” he adds.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are understanding of Bowen’s concerns, as well. Earlier this week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee drafted a bill that explicitly states that the SIGIR needs to audit the finances involved in Iraqi assistance. As of now, however, Bowen is still in the dark while he attempts the audit.

Bowen says that the audit is absolutely necessary, especially when the State Department’s plans will put the lives of civilians, both American and Iraqi, into the hands of contract workers. Earlier this month, ArmorGroup North America Inc. paid $7.5 million in a settlement to resolve allegations that their hired guns engaged in scandalous sexual activity while on the clock overseas. AGNA guards hired to protect workers at the US Embassy in Afghanistan, but instead attended brothels and hazed subordinates with humiliating sex acts.

It’s not even the security workers that have parties concerned, though. Ramzy Mardini from the Institute for the Study of War tells Wired that the State Department has “no experience running a private arm,” and doesn’t think they even have “a good sense of what’s its taking on.”

Mardini adds that the US military is concerned as well, as they ready to hand the torch over to private firms, and poorly managed ones at that.

Among concerns are not just how the funding of the transition to armed-civilian control will take place, but how individuals not officially linked to the US military will be expected to behave. Under what rules will that be abiding and who will make sure that they are governed?