Since the start of the Iraq war, many private security firms have had offices in Iraq and have been playing an important role in U.S.-led military and other operations. But what these firms actually do has been shrouded in mystery as some of them provide more than just security, with many of them involved in military activities.
British security firm Hart Security Ltd., which employs Akihiko Saito--who has been taken captive--is the leading private security company in Iraq, landing contracts with the U.S. military.
Hart has branches in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, providing security to foreign companies and media in Iraq such as the BBC.
According to Hart's Web site, the firm provides security for a broad range of clients.
During the Jan. 30 election for the National Assembly, Hart cooperated with coalition forces to help maintain order throughout the country. Hart also provides the security for a newly rebuilt 350-kilometer power line, having trained 1,500 Iraqi soldiers to protect it.
Security companies have become important in maintaining security in Iraq since the war. Their rise in power has a lot to do with subcontracting from the U.S. military, which is trying to trim its personnel costs.
In addition to protecting VIPs, private security companies maintain high-tech arsenals, supply goods, train security forces and guard critical sites such as oil pipelines. It has also been reported that some firms have participated in actual fighting.
According to Peter Singer, a researcher for the Brookings Institution, private military firms in Iraq employee a total of between 20,000 and 30,000 employees. If they were considered as one integrated group, it would be the second-largest force after the U.S. military in Iraq, which has about 140,000 soldiers deployed.
In April 2004, eight employees of U.S. Blackwater Security Consulting fought a group of several hundred insurgents led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, proving Blackwater's ability to work as a fighting force.
Many employees of private security companies stationed in Iraq are former special forces members who are attracted by high salaries--up to 1,000 dollars a day.
But irregularities in the way these private security firms operate--such as reports of padding bills--have surfaced.
Testimony by U.S. soldiers has also shown the involvement of security company employees in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. However, there have been no charges brought against the employees.