‘Mercenaries’ to fill Iraq troop gap
BRIAN BRADY WESTMINSTER EDITOR (email@example.com)
MINISTERS are negotiating multi-million-pound contracts with private security firms to cover some of the gaps created by British troop withdrawals.
Days after Tony Blair revealed that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers from war-torn Basra within months, it has emerged that civil servants hope “mercenaries” can help fill the gap left behind.
Officials from the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence will meet representatives from the private security industry within the next month to discuss “options” for increasing their business in Iraq in the coming years.
The UK government has already paid out almost £160m to private security companies (PSCs) since the invasion of Iraq, for a range of services, including the protection of British officials on duty and in transit in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.
But, despite expectations that the booming market for private security would go into decline following the bursting of the “Iraq bubble”, firms have now been told to expect even more lucrative work during the “post-occupation phase”.
A senior official from one of the biggest PSCs already operating in Iraq last night claimed firms had been told to expect increased business opportunities in areas such as personnel protection, highway security and the training of Iraqi police and soldiers.
“It is not entirely surprising that they recognise PSCs still have a value in Iraq,” the source said. “But them wanting to meet us demonstrates that they have accepted just how valuable the industry can be.
“No one is saying PSCs can take over all the jobs of regular military, but the British forces have not been doing regular military work recently. If there is a need to protect people and supply routes and areas, there are a lot of specialised private-sector companies that can do that perfectly well.”
The MoD has consistently maintained that it has not paid a PSC to carry out any security duties in Iraq in almost four years since British forces arrived. But officials from the department are planning to join colleagues from the Foreign Office at a “summit” with members of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC) next month.
The development will reawaken complaints that the government is “privatising” the occupation of Iraq.
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