Germans in Iraq
Germany has admirably avoided involvement in the losing quagmire that is the Iraq War and Occupation, but there are German forces in Iraq nonetheless, mercenary forces, the German equivalents of Blackwater and its soldiers of fortune. Der Spiegel has the story of “an agency which sends Germans to crisis zones around the world, especially Iraq, where they work as highly-paid bodyguards, security guards and civilian contractors to the US government. They come from a country that never wanted to get involved in the seemingly endless Iraq war, but which — through businesses like the one being run from this small office in a nondescript house — has nonetheless become entangled in the conflict,” the story of foreign mercenaries operating in Iraq — from Germany and elsewhere:
In Baghdad, international security firms operate in a virtually lawless environment and, in many cases, have assumed paramilitary roles. The number of civilians working in Iraq, 180,000, already exceeds the number of US troops in the country. Around 30,000 of these civilian workers are involved in security. Most of these private warriors are Americans, some of whom work for the scandal-plagued US company Blackwater. No one knows how many Germans are involved with such firms.
The German government is officially against the involvement of private contractors in Iraq, but what can it do? First, [t]here are Arab and African countries willing to provide German firms with shell companies outside the jurisdiction of German courts.” Second, “[t]he distinction between mercenaries and those providing security services in Iraq is blurred at best. German law does not bar German citizens from fighting in other countries, as long as they are not involved in war crimes.” And third, “[t]he work, though borderline illegal, is extremely lucrative”:
The German broker recommends that in places where attacks are likely, a high-risk individual such as a company executive needs four bodyguards working around the clock. He charges at least $2,000 a day for each of his well-trained bodyguards, who receive in turn between $800 and $1,200 a day in pay.
These firms recruit most of their security personnel from among former members of elite units of the police force and German military, or Bundeswehr. They include members of the Bundeswehr’s KSK special forces, combat swimmers, sharpshooters and members of special state police force units. The broker is pleased to report that the supply is ample.
Although young police officers and soldiers enjoy a secure livelihood in Germany, their incomes are not high. A KSK soldier earns a monthly gross salary of about â‚¬2,500. Working for a private security service, he can make that much in two or three days — tax-free. The German tax authorities have little or no control over money earned in war zones. Those who are willing to risk their lives in Baghdad can easily put aside several hundred thousand dollars in two or three years.
It is easy to understand why these “soldiers” would head off to Iraq and risk their lives. For one thing, they may actually like war (and the soldiering that comes with it) — it is what they do, what they want to do — and there are mercenaries around the world venturing from war zone to war zone. For another thing, the pay is fantastic, far more than what they make as “public” soldiers or police officers. They know where the money is, and the money is better private than public.
But in a place like Iraq, the line between the private and the public is unclear. These are private firms, but the work is (mostly, I assume) contract work for the U.S. These are mercenary soldiers, but they are operating in a war zone dominated by the U.S. — the U.S. government, the U.S. military. As I put it in a recent post on the scourge of mercenary arms in Iraq:
The Iraq War and Occupation has been a disaster — and would have been with or without the presence of mercenaries. But the war and occupation have been worse than they otherwise would have been because of their presence, because of their abuses. I’m sure some of the mercenaries are good people doing good work, even in the middle of a bad war, and perhaps not all of the mercenary outfits are like Blackwater. The problem is, there’s Blackwater, and Blackwater has made the whole problem worse.
Much of the war, this disaster of a war, has been contracted out to largely unaccountable private firms, and much of it, far too much of it, is being waged by these mercenaries — Americans, Germans, private soldiers from around the world, private armies waging war for profit.
One of the more noble intentions of the Iraq War was — was it not? — to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, to liberate them from the brutal oppression of a tyrannical regime. Instead, the war has brought chaos and instability, unleashing long-dormant sectarianism and establishing a climate of social disintegration. The warmongers in Washington and Baghdad failed miserably, waging the war with abject ignorance and incompetence.
And as if the Iraqis haven’t had enough to contend with, enough to turn them against their occupiers, there are these war-mad, opportunistic mercenaries profiting off their suffering.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)