The largest foreign military force in Iraq is that ofthe United States government. One might think that thesecond largest foreign force there is that of theUnited Kingdom, but that thought would be incorrect.The second largest foreign force is privatemercenaries. In an article in the Guardian in the U.K. it is estimated that there are about 48,000 of theseguns for hire in the country.

A mercenary force in the news recently is BlackwaterUSA which has among other things a contract forproviding security for the U.S. State Department in Iraq.In an incident last month the Iraqi government chargesthat one of its units shot 11 Iraqis in cold blood. Italso charged that there had been six similar incidentscommitted by the company since 2003. Iraq wants thecompany expelled from the country, but thanks to therestrictions imposed on its puppet government by theU.S., it has no authority over foreign contractors.

A report released by a U.S. congressional committeesays that Blackwater has been involved in 195 shootingsin Iraq since 2005, and charges that the company hascovered up shootings, including at least one by adrunken employee. There is no legal remedy formercenaries in Iraq committing crimes as they fallneither under the jurisdiction of Iraq nor the U.S.Blackwater has fired employees involved in unjustifiedkillings. The congressional report says thatBlackwater has terminated 122 employees, 28 forweapons-related incidents, including two for improperlyshooting at Iraqis, 16 for inappropriate conduct, 25for drug and alcohol abuse, and 10 for aggressive andviolent behaviour.

Besides Blackwater’s transgressions, another mercenaryorganization, Triple Canopy, has been accused of firingon vehicles for sport, and an employee of the company Aegis allegedly posted a video on theInternet showing the shooting of of private vehicleson an Iraqi highway.

The use of mercenary soldiers in war and crime iscommon in history but we must ask ourselves if suchshould be a feature of a democratic society. In ahealthy democracy the use of violence should bereserved solely as a prerogative of the state to beused only when necessary to protect society. Mercenarykillers as are now employed by various governments inconflicts around the world are drifting away from statecontrol to exist in a legal free fire zone. Unlikeregular members of a national armed force or securityorganization, the only legal remedy for the misdeedsand brutality of these people is to stop paying them.

We should also ask ourselves why has this become such aprominent feature of our current society. The answeris two-fold. One is to remove the citizenry fartheraway from the equation that decides on war or peace.Unlike regular military, and particularly unlikeconscripts, mercenaries are in it solely for the moneyand or the thrill of using force. They can quit ifthey like.

State militaries on the other hand havemany people who, though they may be there for themoney, only see using force as an instrument of lastresort. This is particularly true of conscripts. Inwars like we see at present, wars of choice rather thanof necessity, the motivation is not there to mobilize asociety to fight. If it were forced to mobilized therewould be the imminent threat of revolt. So, a mercenaryforce of hired thugs becomes a more reliable agent forgovernments and economic organizations which opt to useforce to achieve their goals.

The other reason is that in the modern economic modelthat is developing, war, along with many other thingsthat used to be conducted as a public entity, isbecoming a private profit center. There are big bucksto be made in capitalizing on the renting out ofkillers and others to governments. Things that theyused to be provided through government service. Justlike our utilities, transportation and health care, warand security are becoming privatized.

This may suit Canada’s new government fine, as it fitsin their ideological frame. But, does it suitCanadians? Canada has been a leader in the movementagainst land mines and in establishing an InternationalCriminal Court. Maybe our next contribution to abetter world can be achieving an international ban onmercenaries and the privatization of force?


Jerry West

Gold River, Vancouver Island Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada’s West Coast. This...