UNEMPLOYED men with little or no experience in the Forces are being lured by American firms to risk their lives in Iraq, according to a security consultant based in Wales.
Rick Graham, who worked in Iraq with Michael Bloss, the Bridgend security guard who was shot dead by insurgents last year, said people were being attracted by the promise of huge tax-free payments.
But most did not realise that if they were unable to fulfil their contracts through death or injury, they or their dependants might receive no pay.
Mr Graham, 47, who lives near Cowbridge, has an extensive background with the special forces, later working as a bodyguard protecting the Sultan of Brunei's son and as a mercenary on helicopter gunships against Marxist rebels in Colombia.
He went to Iraq shortly after the invasion two years ago, working on contract for several American companies. Now, to increase his potential earnings, he has set up his own security firm called Chameleon, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. As soon as money he is owed comes through, he plans to buy two helicopters to transport workers around those parts of Iraq where it is too dangerous to travel by road.
Mr Graham said, "Immediately after the invasion, I realised there would be a lot of work going in Iraq and decided to go over there on contract to an American company. Like virtually all the security guards in the country, it was my job to protect the workers repairing electricity plants and improving the water supply.
"At first all the people I worked with were highly experienced.
"They knew exactly what they were doing and you could work with them fully confident that they would operate as safely as possible.
"But things got worse a year or so ago. Because of the massive amount of work that needed to be done in all parts of the country, more people needed to be recruited and the companies began to take on people who in my view aren't up to it and shouldn't be there at all.
"People without experience are being offered between $8,000 and $10,000 a month tax free to go out there. It's now got to the point where some firms are taking on inexperienced people instead of those they should be employing because they can get away with paying them less. I know six ex-Special Boat Service guys sitting in Poole, Dorset, who can't get jobs in Iraq because they are seen as too expensive.
"Some foreign companies will take people off the dole. It's people like that who are in serious danger of getting killed. I want to warn those without proper experience not to go there, but to be honest I'm more worried about the danger to former professional soldiers who have got the experience but are being put in extra danger by working with people who don't know what they are doing.
"You need a special mindset to do this kind of work. Unless you're the type of person who would join the forces, you're not going to be up to it.
"It might look good on the films, but you don't get a bullet in you when you're watching movies. If you want to get into a fire fight, you're crazy. It frightens me - if I said I wasn't scared, I'd be a liar.
"One of the big problems in Iraq is that all the contracts go to American companies - the British have got nothing out of being in the war. The only chance of getting any work there is as a sub-contractor to the Americans, and that means the UK Government has no control over employment policies.
"In many cases, your contract says that you only get paid if you do the work. So if you get killed or have to be invalided out, you or your family could be left with nothing but a huge bill."
A Foreign Office spokesman said, "We offer general advice to British citizens who are contemplating travel to Iraq, updating regularly our information about specifically dangerous areas. At present our general advice is that people should not go to Baghdad or a number of other provinces. Clearly there is a very serious risk of being caught up in the conflict and of kidnapping.
"Obviously a number of British workers are there under contract to security companies. If they are working for British companies they will be highly experienced, but we can't speak for those working for companies that are not British. Our advice is that people without a high level of experience should not take jobs with security companies as by doing so they are likely to endanger the lives of themselves and others."
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