Steve Fainaru’s ‘Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq‘ provides a first hand glance into the complicated nature of modern warfare and the blending of the public-private roles of war-fighting. Fainaru weaves a critical overview of the US military and government use of private security contractors in Iraq with personnel stories of the lives of several security contractors in a well-written and provocative book.
Fainaru embedded himself with several of the reported 310 US-funded security groups responsible for protecting politicians and cargo all around the conflict zone of Iraq. He vividly portrays the lack of oversight for these groups and the reasons why many Americans and foreigners choose to sign up, usually after they themselves have just finished a tour with the US military in the country.
Fainaru paints a picture of the contractors as a necessary evil in a conflict where the US government did not have the army or the stomach for the job. In this he does not mean to disparage the US military’s efforts, to the contrary, he believes that they lacked the necessary resources and the contractors were an effective and politically easier method for many missions, especially protecting supplies and politicians.
Fainaru did most of his on site research in 2006-2007 and it was blatantly clear why these contractors were needed, protection of convoys. The basic truth was during this time, every truck carrying supplies, whether it be tomatoes or rifles, needed protection from insurgent attacks and the US government out of a combination of necessity and choice, gave this job to private security groups, who of course were paid handsomely. Jack Holly, director of logistics for the US Army Corps of engineers in Iraq, stated his reasons for this choice:
‘Well, I don’t want a mother to know that her son was on a convoy coming up from Kuwait and he got killed guarding Frappuccino that was going to the US embassy. To me, soldiers and marines have a mission to do certain things, and on other things you can out-source risk.’
This is another theme that Fainaru weaves throughout the book; the differences between US army soldiers and these private security personnel. The US army had legitimacy, a well-structured hierarchy, rules, and a secure personal and institutional bond holding the group together. The private security workers, many of whom were veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, or other wars, lacked legitimacy from the Iraqi population, from the US military, and here in the US, had no rules, lacked an institutional structure, and did not share any special bonds. Case in point, Fainaru describes two kidnappings of Americans in the book; one a case where three US marines were taken and another where five Crescent Private Security personnel, mostly all Americans, were kidnapped. In the marines case, the US Army sent out a brigade of around 4,000 US soldiers knocking on every door trying to find their comrades. In the case of the Crescent American kidnapped victims, the victims’ families had to continually prod the US government and FBI to investigate and find their loved ones.
Fainaru describes the ambiguous nature of the contractor’s situation in just two short sentences;
‘They didn’t die or get wounded or engage in combat. They were everywhere and nowhere.’
The most troubling aspect of the private contractors in Iraq, and that Fainaru emphasis’s greatly, is the lack of accountability for these contractors and their owners. The Crescent group, which had some its members kidnapped, ignored many protocols and put its employees and Iraqis in danger time and time again. Fainaru also details the power and efficiency of the infamous Blackwater security group, which protects all State Department officials around the globe. Fainaru asserts that Blackwater was almost universally despised for its arrogance and disregard for all rules, but he acknowledges that the group has never lost a State Department official.
These contractors’ ability to supersede Iraqi law looks like it has for the most part come to an end as of January 1st, according to the SOFA pact, they are now under Iraqi law. Of course time will tell what this means. In addition, at this time, 5 Blackwater employees face indictment here in the US for deaths of 17 Iraqis during the Nisour Square incident in September 2007.
It is easy to say, with all these problems, lets just eliminate these private security groups, but this looks to be impossible. The US has a volunteer military and would require hundreds of thousands more troops to cover the contractor’s presence. Even so, if you were a soldier would you want to risk your life protecting soda pop or lamps? The US is not the only state hooked on private security groups as the Italian military, when leaving Iraq for good last year, first got its troops out and then hired contractors to get their supplies after the fact. The ways and means of modern warfare are becoming blurrier and blurrier.