Life in a private army in Iraq

“THOSE times when Iraqi insurgents would attack American facilities in Baghdad with rockets and mortars, I would ask myself, is this worth the $3,000 a month I’m here for?”

JP (for understandable reasons, we are not giving his real name) was sharing with us, one afternoon last week, his experience as security specialist for Private Military Contractors (PMC) securing American facilities and officials in Iraq.

JP, 42, was one of the 25,000 armed personnel in Iraq working for PMCs in a $100 billion industry spawned by the privatization of war jobs normally performed by national military forces. They are also referred to as “mercenaries.”

JP was hired from the Philippines in March 2004 by Dyncorp, a Reston, Virginia-based technology and services company which acquired a multi-million dollar contract with the US State Department to advise the Iraqi government on setting up effective law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies as well as provide peacekeeping support.

Dyncorp has a colorful reputation in the private military business securing Afghan President Hadmid Karsai, providing police services in Bosnia, flying defoliating missions over cocoa crops in Colombia, conducting patrol along the US and Mexico border, and peacekeeping service in East Timor.

Unlike many of the 25 other Filipinos who worked as armed personnel in Dyncorp, JP did not have military or police experience. But as a criminology graduate, he had worked as a security guard in Manila and in Guandong, China.

It was through a colleague in Guandong, who worked with Dyncorp in East Timor, that he learned about the Iraq job opportunity in the American company. He was given the e-mail address of a Filipino who was acting as coordinator between the applicants and Dyncorp.
Compared with the local salary rate of less than P10,000 a month, Dyncorp’s offer was awesome: $1,600 a month for a one-year contract.

All their visa requirements to Kuwait (where they were met by the Dyncorp representative) and Iraq and tickets were taken care of by the company. They just picked up their tickets at Kuwait Airlines in Makati and boarded the plane at NAIA.

They didn’t pass through the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency that regulates deployment of Filipinos overseas. At the NAIA, a woman took them through immigration. Otherwise they would have aroused suspicions because they looked the typical overseas Filipino worker, yet they were traveling as tourists and their travel papers stated that they were billeted at Marriott Hotel in Kuwait.

From Kuwait, they traveled to Baghdad by land for 10 hours escorted by armed Iraqis. They underwent two-week training by Americans on how to handle and assemble different kinds of high-powered guns like AK-47 and MP5.

Their first assignment was at An Numaniyah, approximately 294 kilometers south of Baghdad, to provide security for the US Army Corp of engineers doing reconstruction work in a military base.
JP explained that there are two classifications of armed private personnel in Iraq. The first, described as “static,” are those who guard American offices and facilities. Almost all of the Filipinos who were recruited by PMCs were for “static” jobs.

The other classification is Personal Security Detail (PSD) who provide security for officials like Blackwater USA personnel guarding Paul Bremer, administrator for Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority, and escorting deliveries of supplies to combat fields or reconstruction sites. Since this assignment is more dangerous, it pays much higher of up to $12,000 a month.

JP said they were prepared for the worst when they applied for the job. All contracts with PMCs warn the employee, referred to as “contractor,” that they were going into hostile environment. One contract states: “Overseas work by its nature can be dangerous due to the environment, insurgent/terrorist activity, or other post-war conditions. The probability of serious injury or death should be expected. The Contractor by virtue of entering into this agreement recognizes and accepts these risks.”

They are also prepared for adverse living conditions. One contract also states: “It is understood that the food, lodging and general living conditions can be extremely adverse in an overseas environment; therefore hardships in these areas should be expected and are accounted for in the compensation.”

JP said except for one tense incident when an Iraqi politician with his armed bodyguards wanted to get inside the US camp, their four-month work at An Numaniyah was better than they had expected.

JP cut short his employment with Dyncorp when he and 14 other Filipinos were pirated by Erynis International, a private military contractor founded by notorious pro-Apartheid South African officials, with a salary offer of $3,000 a month. (They reimbursed Dyncorp $800 for their airfare to Iraq.)

Under Erynis, JP said their assignment was providing security on the perimeters of the Baghdad Green Zone, also known as the International Zone, the heavily guarded diplomatic/government area of closed-off streets in central Baghdad where US and British occupation authorities live and work.

Within the Green Zone are the main palaces of former President Saddam Hussein, American and British embassies, and offices and living quarters of American officials as well as that of major US consulting companies. Americans and British go out only when escorted by four bodyguards and an armored vehicle.

Online Global Security describes Baghdad Green Zone as “defended with coils of razor wire, chain-link fences, earthen berms and armed checkpoints. The area is defended by M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees with .50 caliber machine guns on top. The Green Zone appears under siege, with barriers, high concrete walls and checkpoints.”

JP said the living conditions at the Baghdad Green Zone were much better than in An Numaniyah, which was a desert. But they experienced more attacks from Iraqi guerillas in Baghdad than in An Numaniyah. Grenades and mortar shells would be fired into what is supposedly the “safest area” in Iraq. One time, an Indian delivering supplies in the Green Zone was blasted to death by a rocket.

That’s when, JP said, you would begin to wonder if the risks are worth the $36,000 (P1.9 million) he stood to get from the whole job contract. That’s also when you hoped and prayed that, if you get unlucky and are unable to come home alive, your family uses wisely the $20,000 insurance benefits they would get. Over and above the insurance payment, Erinys promised a death compensation equivalent to five times their one month salary.

JP said on ordinary, non-red alert days, they each work eight hours in one day. During red alert days, they are required to work for 12 hours, without overtime pay. Since they are in full battle gear, JP said duty becomes an ordeal during summer when the temperature could go as high as 50 degrees centigrade.

JP said American military officials appreciate the service of the Filipino armed personnel in securing them. He shows with pride the commendation from Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Bostiok of the US Army of the Gulf Region Division (US Army Corp of Engineers) citing “his professionalism and dedication supporting the Gulf region Division’s perimeter guard force in Baghdad during a period of heightened insurgent activity.”

JP said despite the pullout of the Philippine military contingent from the Coalition of the Willing following the abduction of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, Americans see Filipinos as allies. “We are preferred than other nationalities because of our knowledge of English and personal hygiene.”

JP said in their off-duty hours, American officials would often join the Filipinos in karaoke sessions in their living quarters. “We pooled our resources to buy a Magic Sing. We need that to fight homesickness,” he said. They would sometimes cook Filipino food to break the monotony of mess hall meals. “They (the Americans) love our adobo,” JP said.

There is no dearth of Filipino applicants for the job. Due to the ban on Filipinos on travel to Iraq, the PMC avoids the legal impediment by hiring Filipinos from Dubai, Jordan, or Kuwait. That means, the Filipino applicants would have to invest some P60,000 each of their own money for their fare to those Middle East countries without assurance of a job contract and agreed compensation package.

This arrangement puts the Filipino applicants in a situation where they are forced to accept lower pay so as not to go home empty-handed and to recoup expenses for their fare. JP said the current hiring rate now is $1,700 a month.

JP, who came home in June 2005, is thinking of trying out Afghanistan. There, at least, Filipinos are not banned from going

(Above photo shows Filipino armed personnel in An Numaniyah, Iraq)

July 3, 2006 6:50 am   Posted in: Malaya

775 Responses

  1. Ellen - July 3, 2006 8:15 am

    Press release from POEA:

    POEA not sending civilian fighters to
    Iraq, Afghanistan

    The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) does not process documents of Filipinos hired as “civilian fighting force” for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The July 2004 ban on deployment of Filipino workers to Iraq has not been lifted and the reported deployment of security forces to Iraq and Afghanistan did not pass the documentation system of the government.

    The government allowed the recruitment of Filipino workers for Iraq in the latter part of 2003 but only for deployment to campsites which were found safe from attacks from Iraqi rebels and terrorists. Most of the deployed workers were assigned to do construction, maintenance, housekeeping, and catering jobs inside American camps.

    The deployment of Filipinos to Afghanistan was also allowed but was limited to professionals working in projects controlled by the United Nations (UN). POEA processed the contracts of these workers only after endorsement and clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

  2. ystakei - July 3, 2006 8:38 am

    When they make rules, they should stick to it, but the way I see it is that the Bansot herself breaks the rule if it will make her look good as in the case of Tarongoy, much as sympathize with the family of this guy who risked going to Iraq even against the travel ban to Iraq.

    I feel sorry for Filipinos that the need to survive has actually twisted their sense of reasoning, even weaken their faith that in fact God will provide, but it must be a challenge to see if one can really just survive on his own wit and will to live.

    In May last year, a 40-year-old Japanese was captured and tortured by the insurgents in Iraq, and all that his brother could do was say it was his brother that they had shown on TV, but he and his family could not ask the government for help for they knew he broke the rule.

    He went to Iraq after leaving the French Foreign Legion where he did not see any action as he wanted to, and joined the US company that hired those mercenaries not for money especially when he was not married and he did not have to support his family but for the thrill and adventure of experiencing being the aggressor and winning or being defeated.

    That, perhaps, I can tolerate, but the kind of risk Filipinos are taking in order to survive is something really that I cannot and will never understand.

  3. joe - July 3, 2006 12:01 pm

    While its true that POEA wont allow civilian fighting force either in Iraq or Afghanistan. The fact remains that PMC out of desperation to meet the needed manpower for deployment resort to recruiting those ordinary CONSTRUCTION WORKERS,HOUSEKEEPING,ELECTRICIANS,CO0KS as long as they are able bodied and pass preliminary interviews.And the next scene you would see is..nakahawak na ito ng mga AK47 at 9MM. No wonder some of this guys are oftentimes reprimanded for accidental discharge of firearms.So will u still be surprised to hear if the number of armed filipino force keeps on increasing in IRAQ or Afghanistan????

  4. Dominique - July 3, 2006 12:31 pm

    The statement of POEA shows that the government’s right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. I remember DFA Undersecretary Jose Brillantes saying after the recovery of Angelito Nayan that the situation in Afghanistan is okay ang there was no need to impose a ban on Filipinos going there. I was surprised by his statement but he said it. That’s why DFA did not impose a ban to working in Afghanistan.

    Now, the POEA said they are not processing papers of those who would be working as civilian fighting force. Is that a new ruling? Why did they allow BlackwaterUSA to send Filipinos there? Or is it because they didn’t know what the work was and it’s only now that it’s being written that they realize what kind of work Filipinos would be doing under PMCs?

  5. Dominique - July 3, 2006 12:44 pm

    And what’s the alternative of the government for Filipinos who want to go to Iraq and Afghanistan?

  6. ystakei - July 3, 2006 1:48 pm

    Ang tawag diyan, Dominique, ay “double standard”! In other words, hypocrite, fraud,swindler, etc.!

  7. schumey - July 3, 2006 4:01 pm

    This administration has released conflicting statements too often that one would ask if there’s anybody home. If they they the opposition is divided, the same is true with the administration. We have officials of the administration realeasing different statements regarding the same issue. What kind of administration is this that they don’t even have an official stand.

    Desperation is another product of this administration. They have managed to create this feeling of desperation among the people that our countrymen would risk anything to be able to feed their families.

    What a way to create jobs.

  8. ystakei - July 3, 2006 6:08 pm

    Who says that the Opposition are divided? The Bansot Gang, of course, says so, but why should we believe them and allow them to succeed in defeating the attempt or attempts of everyone to unite and fight as one against this treacherous and deceitful regime.

    I know for a fact that people have been organizing depending on the kind of issues that most practically and generally affect them, thus, the various impeachment documents being submitted to Congress for consideration, but this is not disunity. It is more a blessing in disguise and to the advantage of everyone that all aspects of graft and corruption, etc. can be covered without a miss by these sectorial documents.

    This is UNITY per se. I have not observed such unity and reconciliation among Filipinos, who are definitely moved by just one and only aspiration—the removal of a crook, a criminally inclined dwarf acting bigger than the tallest giant there is in this world or in the world of fantasy!

    A year ago, people in the streets were not as bold, and they are kind of wishy washy still about the impeachment, but this year, it is different. There is that strong determinaton and definite resolve to win in this battle against the worst political demon that they have been saddled with so that this time, no spin by the Midget’s propagandists can break them, and pull them back to that state of indecision regardless of whether or not the majority of the Middle Class can have the balls to openly join them.

    Hopefully, the impeachment will proceed and the Bansot will be impeached despite the reality of the futility factor due to the people she personally placed in the Supreme Court and the crooks she has been bribing in the Philippine Congress who are not likely to be pricked by their conscience because of what she can pamper them with in contrast with what the impeachment can actually mean to them.

  9. Emilio_OFW - July 4, 2006 1:32 am

    The inability of the present administration to provide regular decent job to majority of Filipinos is the number one reason of migration for a greener pasture.

    If not for the series of “expose” by the media of the mercenary-type recruitment of able-bodied men for Iraq and Afghanistan by several American security companies in Subic, aplenty might have left the country and seeing action in these two war-torn countries. Why in Subic? Why recruit Filipinos? We’ve seen in movies that mercenaries are mostly Americans, Brits and South Africans. These companies will not be a contributing factor to the continued decline of the popularity of Bush and Blair if ever American or British will be killed while performing mercenary work. I was informed by one of my American friends, who was once a “client” of these personal security detail that Iraq was (I think it is still) a very dangerous place – very hostile environment and harsh weather condition. Terrible! – that was his description of the place.

    But what can a head of a family do? Eh, di kapit sa patalim, ang kadalasan nababanggit basta makapasa lamang sa physical at medical kasama na ang psychological examinations.

    It’s not easy to say – life is easy out there!

  10. joe - July 4, 2006 10:40 am

    Those recruiters dont care if u have military or police background,underage or overage, Educated ot not. The thing is if you are ready and willing to die because of green bucks.With the economic and political difficulties our country is facing one is willing to risk his life and even beg to be recruited.At least in IRAQ or AFGHANISTAN you will not die in vain. U can also be part of the unsung heroes because of dollar remittances which is 10 times higher than an ordinary DH receives in middle east countries.I hope the administration ceases to its hypocrisy in dealing with these so called “mercenary” issues. Every filipino ay nangangarap ng magandang kinabukasan para sa pamilya.Its only thru these kind of job that it can be possibly arrives into reality.Who would ever resist a salary that offers a money comparable to a bank Manager?? As long as our peso continue to fare badly against the dollar we can never prevent this people from leaving this country. Who would ever help them?? nothing….but themselves..not this administration for sure!!!

  11. ystakei - July 4, 2006 7:14 pm

    Ano iyong ipinagmamalaki ni Bansot na buying power daw ng peso e ang linaw-linaw na katulad noong sinasabi ng mother ko na nangyari pagkatapos ng WWII. Bayong ang dala nilang pambili ng pagkain, hindi pitaka!!! I bet it’s the same now kundi nga lang may naiprentang mga 100, 500, etc. bills para kunyari maraming mabibili sa peso!!! Money laundering tapos na raw e no ang ginagawa ng mga bangko pilipino dito sa Japan na walang license to operate as a genuine and legitimate bank? Sinong niloloko ng Bansot na iyan na akala niya lahat ng tao katulad niyang boba?! Puede ba, patalsikin na, now na!

  12. nelbar - July 5, 2006 8:47 am

    speaking of 100, 500 etc. bills ..bakit yung 200 peso bills ang bilis na lumabas?
    Kay Marcos noon ay P5 lang? coins pa?
    Iyong 500 bill naman, tumagal muna matapos ang 1986 peoples power bago ito lumabas.

  13. Ellen - July 5, 2006 9:25 am

    I talked with Bert Asuque, DFA spokesman, yesterday. he explained that there is no ban on Filipinos going to Afghanistan for security service. The ban is joining private armies.

    He said, if you put in your application, “Security specialist”, that would be okay.

  14. ystakei - July 5, 2006 11:23 pm

    Yup, Nelbar, why? Kasi ba andoon ang litrato ni Bansot at ang tatay niya ang “abogado” doon?

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