Corridors of Power: Mercenaries, Treasure Hunters, and U.S.-U.K. Relations

Corridors of Power: Mercenaries, Treasure Hunters, and U.S.-U.K. Relations

HIRED GUNS IN IRAQ -- Two years ago, the United Nations set up the U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, hoping to discourage the use of private armies, and to push more nations to sign the 1989 U.N. Mercenary Convention. Mercenaries in the classic definition of proxy fighters are not very much in evidence these days, but the United Nations has broadened the term to include hired guns for protection -- and that business is booming. Some 48,000 foreign civilians are employed as security guards in Iraq alone, where they provide protection for government officials, businessmen, journalists, industrial installations, ministries and everything in between.

Last week, a group from the UNWG (as it's known) was in Chile looking into the recruitment of Chileans for Iraq. The Santiago Times newspaper reported that at least 1,000 "former Chilean soldiers" are now working for security firms in Iraq, along with Hondurans, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Fijians -- but also Britons, Americans and other Europeans.

Despite the risks (over 1,000 killed, and hundreds wounded) it's not difficult to see the allure of civilian security contract work. A Chilean guarding a ground facility such as an embassy earns $3,000 a month: for mobile security assignments, with their high risk of roadside bombs, monthly pay can be as high as $12,000 -- "astronomical by Chilean standards," gasps the Santiago Times. Not bad almost anywhere else, either.

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