On Monday, the Bush administration began a PR blitz to recover a nation's
trust over its handling of the Iraq debacle. However,
considering the kind of shady characters the occupiers are now being forced
to deal with, it's getting harder to believe their claims that bringing freedom
and democracy for Iraq is the underlying goal.
Right now, security is the rarest commodity of all in Iraq. And it's obvious
that in this election year, Bush, Bremer and Co. would do anything to get it.
Ironically, however, the United States' all-encompassing quest to create security
as fast as possible may have unpleasant long-term results, both politically
Confusion and Double Standards: America's Recruitment of
War Criminals and Mercenaries
The Pentagon's failure to ensure security in Iraq
has resulted in the importation
of tens of thousands of armed private contractors,
hired to protect private businessmen and world diplomats as well. The suspicion
that many contractors could more truthfully be called mercenaries has been sustained
by two phenomena: one, the active military backgrounds most have; and two, the
cloak of secrecy that tends to drop when they get into trouble, as with the
Titan Corporation's incredible disappearing John
In April, Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn claimed
that "at least 80 foreign mercenaries – security guards recruited from the
United States, Europe and South Africa and working for American companies –
have been killed in the past eight days in Iraq." According to this article,
the American military has refused to speak of these deaths, "apparently fearful
that the full total of Western dead would have serious political fallout."
Iraq expert Scott
Taylor, a Canadian war reporter and author,
stated to me yesterday that "the Americans have been consistent in their obfuscation
of information concerning all casualties in Iraq." On a recent trip to Iraq,
Taylor was informed by a sergeant in the 173 Airborne Brigade that "there is
a strict non-disclosure policy for Special Forces casualty figures" as well:
"This policy blurs the line separating mercenary operations from US military
missions, as these guys were for the most part all part of the same 'elite'
brotherhood. There is no question that ex-SF personnel share intelligence with
their former comrades – and vice versa."
Thus helped by the government, the well-connected and
companies have been largely successful in hushing up the worst of the continuing
bad news. Some of the most powerful ones have actually formed what amounts to a small trade
union – the so-called International Peace Operations
Taylor mentioned one Canadian contractor who was killed in March, Andy
Bradsell of Olive Security,
and added that "other Canadian companies are recruiting former Canadian soldiers
for Iraq, such as Toronto-based Globe
Risk." According to Taylor, although Globe Risk used to take out advertisements
in his military magazine, Esprit de Corps,
"They are now doing their recruiting on a strictly word-of-mouth basis.
The demand now is so high and the profitability so enormous that hiring standards
have had to be drastically lowered. In what used to be a tough market to crack
into, you suddenly have over 15,000 positions to fill in Iraq alone.
"Imagine if the National Hockey League was suddenly expanded to 800 teams.
Anyone who could stand upright on skates and hold a stick would be catapulted
into the category of 'professional hockey player.' The ranks of the Rambo wannabes
is now being fleshed out with not only unsavory war criminals, but also with
characters closely resembling the cast of that classic Bill Murray comedy Stripes."
That said, it's not hard to understand how more
than a bushel of "bad apples" have wound up in Iraq. All-star players on the
Abu Ghraib torture
team, John Israel (and Steven Stefanowicz of CACI International) are living proof that the
Pentagon's allegedly moral war against rogue Iraqi criminal elements was being
partially fought by the same sort of characters. This suspicion
was bolstered last month when four South African contractors were wounded
and one killed in Baghdad. Two of these turned out to be veterans of paramilitary
"death squads" that killed and terrorized blacks during the apartheid era. "It
is just a horrible thought that such people are working for the Americans,"
said Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunals for the
former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Even Serbian mercenaries once employed by Saddam were merely rehired by the
Americans, following the Iraqi strongman's demise. The same article specifies
their employers as "security firms under contract to provide protection for
employees of Blackwater USA and Titan Corporation of San Diego. They have now
been joined by some of their compatriots, who had been working for the Pentagon
for several years in Afghanistan." Former elite Bosnian soldiers
are also said to be now contracting out as security guards in Iraq.
A recent IPS article,
quoting Serbian military analysts, added that from 500 to 1,000 Serbs are currently
serving in Iraq "as security staff or bodyguards" – bizarrely enough, putting
them on the same "team" as former Croatian soldiers also being recruited by
security companies. The article continues:
"From time to time, small ads appear in Serbian papers announcing 'the need
for security personnel with experience.' The phones in the ads are not local.
Similar ads are appearing in newspapers in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Serbia has some 3,000 security firms. Most employ some 30,000 former policemen
or war veterans. These companies put up a wall of silence every time Iraq is
"Owners of the two most prominent security firms, Fitep and Protecta, decline
to speak about mercenaries, and say people are free to do individually whatever
"'There is no licensing or official registration of those agencies,' Marko
Nicovic, vice president of the International Bodyguard and Security Services
Association told IPS. 'Many are closely linked both to criminals and police.
There is absolutely no control, there is a complete chaos.'"
The relationship between the American coalition
and the mercenaries is so thoroughly and inextricably muddled that only contradiction
and confusion can result. For example, the company that hired the South African
war criminals (Erinys International) was also
founded by Nour USA's Abdul Huda Farouki,
an associate of the now-disgraced
Ahmad Chalabi. A Newsday
report from February describes Farouki and his wife as "prominent socialites
in the D.C. area [who] frequently attended White House affairs during the Clinton
administration. Farouki's many companies have done extensive construction work
for the Pentagon over the years."
According to Alexander
Cockburn, Chalabi helped Erinys win an $80 million contract in 2003 to guard
140 Iraqi oil installations, "employing members of Chalabi's private militia
for the purpose, as well as the son of a close Chalabi confidante as chief executive
and his nephew Salem Chalabi as firm's counsel." Farouki was also implicated
in the Jordanian Petra Bank scandal for which Chalabi has
been convicted in absentia. (The former owed the bank $12 million
at the time of its bankruptcy). Erinys has also been contracted to protect workers
of American corporations Bechtel and Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg,
Brown and Root. In other words, the Americans were contracting to companies
staffed by war criminals and controlled by false friends seeking
to profit from exploiting Iraq's chaos.
'This Is Not the Boy Scouts'
One of the firms stated in connection with Serb
mercenaries was the Titan Corporation, erstwhile employer of the
mysterious John Israel. The other is North Carolina's Blackwater USA, which gained infamy when
of its contractors were killed and hung from a bridge in Fallujah on March
31. Days later, the company's employees actively participated in battle.
Blackwater has also exhibited
questionable hiring practices, employing "scores of Chilean ex-commandos,
many trained by Americans during the notorious U.S.-supported dictatorship of
Augusto Pinochet." According to company president Gary Jackson, "we scour the
ends of the earth to find professionals: the Chilean commandos are very, very
professional and they fit within the Blackwater system ... this is not the Boy
Founded by former Navy Seals, the upstart company somehow won a $21 million
no-bid contract to provide
security for coalition boss Paul Bremer. Investigative reporter Barry Yeoman claims that Blackwater's president
dreams of building
"the largest private army in the world." According
to him, Jackson
"Has talked about expanding to serve militaries in France and other places,
and right now has contracts that he says are so secret that he is not able to
tell one branch of the Feds that he's working for a different branch of the
If the closed world of security companies is indeed pervaded by such secrecy,
there's little chance that Congress – let alone the public – will ever hear
of the bulk of indiscretions committed in the field. After all, as one former
Special Forces contractor
put it, "This is Iraq, and you don't have to account to anyone."
All things considered, it seems more than a bit surreal that the Chief Administrative
Officer of another major contractor, ArmorGroup, Christopher Beese, "continues
to provide expert witness testimony" to the Hague tribunal on war crimes in
Bosnia. What, are defendants passing him their résumés from the dock?
Victor Bout: From Afghanistan to Africa to Iraq?
A very different sort of alliance is the one reported
last week between the U.S. and one of the world's most notorious arms traffickers.
The name Victor Bout has now become a sort
of shorthand for signifying the total confusion, contradiction and desperation
fast overtaking the Bush administration in Iraq. The Tajik-born rogue arms dealer
once dubbed "the
merchant of death" for his role in arming
African warlords, and previously wanted for selling arms to
the Taliban, is reportedly being protected by the U.S. – in return for favors
performed in Iraq. This only shows how decidedly murky the whole occupation
has become. According to a May
"The U.N. Security Council drafted a resolution in March to freeze the assets
of mercenaries and weapons dealers who backed ousted Liberian dictator Charles
Taylor. Bout should top that list, French diplomatic sources say. But the diplomats
and U.N. sources say the United States has been working to keep Bout off that
"U.S. officials have indicated unofficially that the reason is that Bout
is useful in Iraq, the sources told IPS. One of Bout's many companies is providing
logistical support to U.S. forces in Iraq, well-placed French diplomatic sources
say. His private airline British Gulf is supplying goods to the occupation forces,
"In recognition of these services both the U.S. and the British governments
have been opposing French efforts to include Bout in the UN mercenaries list,
the diplomatic sources revealed."
The story had been broken days earlier in a Financial
Times article revealing Britain's acquiescence to American demands for
shielding Bout. However, soon thereafter a
second FT article declared that the U.S. had dropped "its objections
to action being taken against him."
The FT quoted Dick Armitage, Colin Powell's ally and State Department
second-in-command, as saying, "as far as I'm concerned [Bout] ought to be on
any asset freeze list and anything else you can do to him." Yet considering
that U.S. policy in Iraq has been dictated by the Pentagon, and not their alienated
brethren in the State Department, one wonders as to how much the latter's opinions
count for these days.
If the Bout-U.S. story is true, it certainly would not be the first
time that the Pentagon has conducted shady activities
behind the scenes. And, as we will see, there is certainly reason enough to
entertain the possibility.
Connected All Along? The Chichakli-Bout Angle
The Center for
Public Integrity, which has done exhaustive research on the "merchant of
death," goes one step further. According
to an exhaustive report from its International Consortium of Investigative Journalism
(ICIJ), the special relationship began long before Iraq. According to an interview
with one of his close associates, Bout actively helped the Americans "ferry"
soldiers into Afghanistan with his private air cargo fleet. In fact, with the
help of his inside connections, Bout had been operating legally for at least
a decade within the U.S. The associate, Richard Ammar Chichakli, "is the nephew
of a former president of Syria and a veteran of the U.S. Army, a family friend
of the bin Ladens who hung out with a youthful Osama and ran a free-trade zone
in the United Arab Emirates. According to the United Nations, Chichakli also
served as the financial overseer of arms trader Victor Bout's far-flung network
of air cargo operations."
As could be expected, Chichakli denies that either he or Bout is involved in
the arms trade – despite the myriad media and UN reports to the contrary. This
Syrian-born, U.S. Army and professed 18-year intelligence veteran apparently
has had a major role in some of the most important events of the "war on terror."
"In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United
States, Chichakli claims he was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
to assist bin Laden family members living in the United States. 'FBI acted absolutely
wonderfully,' he said, then remarked of the bin Laden family that that's how
it goes when one has friends in high places."
Despite his foreign origins, Richard Chichakli's previous career in the U.S. Army
(from 1990-1993) was a distinguished one. According to the ICIJ report, Chichalki
had specialized "in fields such as aviation, first aid, interrogation and intelligence."
"He also earned FAA certification as an air traffic controller with military
control-tower rating. He took courses at the Defense Language Institute and
the Army's academy for non commissioned officers, in addition to receiving training
in conventional and unconventional warfare. He left the military as a decorated
After leaving the Army, Chichakli worked as commercial manager of the free
zone in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. From 1993-1996, he was responsible for
much of the liaison and commercial activity at the Sharjah airport at which
Bout maintained his operational base. The U.A.E.'s lax regulations and secretive
banking system made it an attractive location for low-key arms dealers like
Victor Bout. Incidentally, Al Qaeda recognized these qualities when it made
major financial hub for supporting the 9/11 hijackers.
The report goes on to identify Chichakli as having held "several senior positions
in companies owned by Bout … including chief financial manager with responsibilities
such as accounting, financial and reporting activities, and overall responsibility
for the financial systems." In addition to this, "Chichakli is the agent for
several companies registered in Texas. San Air General
Trading, which is run by associates of Bout, has Chichakli listed as president
Also employed by this company are Serguei Denissenko and Vladimir Kviazeo.
Aside from being general manager of San Air in the U.A.E., Denissenko "is also
the commercial manager for Bout's Centrafrican Airlines. San Air owns some of
the aircraft operated by Centrafrican Airlines." These firms have all been linked
to arms trafficking operations, according to the ICIJ and other detailed reports. These
labyrinthine, ever-changing corporations make up only a small part of the complex
series of constant moves that Victor Bout has made to cover his tracks and
keep the authorities at bay around the world, from Bulgaria to Angola
to the United Arab Emirates,
to name but a few places.
While denying any involvement in arms trafficking per se, Richard Chichakli
did admit to the ICIJ that
"Bout had taken part in at least one operation with a military purpose.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington …Bout organized
three flights ferrying U.S. personnel to Afghanistan, but he refused to elaborate."
Washington Post journalist Douglas Farah has
also claimed Bout helped the Americans in Afghanistan. This connection is
supported again in a Belgian article from 2003 dedicated to another close Bout
associate, Sanjivan Ruprah.
Evidence of Bout's Secret Cooperation with the Americans:
In August of 2002, an
African source claimed that a right-hand man of infamous Rwandan president Paul
Kagame, Col. Patrick Karegeya,
was working with Bout and two other "known arms dealers with close contacts
with Al-Qaida," and that the U.S. was investigating them.
One of the men, Sanjivan
Ruprah, had been arrested in Belgium six months earlier, and according to
the LA Times had been giving information to US investigators regarding
"business dealings between Al Qaeda and the sprawling arms-trading operation
run by Victor Bout." Ruprah jumped bail and fled Belgium, but was re-arrested
in Italy in August 2002. However, after being released and ordered to remain
in the country, he disappeared, and his whereabouts remain unknown.
Whether the U.S. had either called for Ruprah's arrest, or conversely aided
his escape remains unknown. But, digging under the surface, it appears that
Ruprah – and through him, Bout – had enjoyed a covert relationship with the
Feds since long before, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and that this relationship
continued at least until the time of Ruprah's incarceration.
Letters to America
In October 2003, a Belgian research institute
claimed to have analyzed documents taken from his laptop computer. The
article, by IPIS Research,
provides the partial text of several letters allegedly sent by the arms dealer
to an FBI handler named "Brad F." In one of these letters, from May of 2002,
Ruprah requested that the U.S. government pressure the Belgians to release him.
Ruprah had been among the 130 African officials and individuals slapped with
a travel ban in June 2001, following a U.N.
report in December 2000 that had condemned Liberia's former president, Charles
Taylor, along with his closest associates, of abetting the "blood diamonds"
warfare in Sierra Leone. However, despite this ban, Ruprah "visited the United
States at least twice to meet law enforcement officials, on 23-24 September
2001 and 24-25 January 2002."
"One month after his first meeting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation
in Washington DC, Ruprah sent his handler, Brad F., information about foreign
bank accounts linked to Liberian officials. Ruprah also began to provide information
on Al Qaeda, drafting a dossier for the US government outlining requirements
for arming the Northern Alliance, with Ruprah presumably to act as the broker.
Such collaboration appears to have been an effort to have his name removed from
the travel ban and to avoid legal complications in relation to sanctions busting."
The IPIS report quotes from the first letter sent from Ruprah to this agent,
in autumn 2001:
"Att. Brad F [last name deleted by IPIS].
"As per our telcon, please note the following:
"1. Victor [Bout] and I have discussed various aspects of cooperation with
yourselves regarding Afghanistan, the main area being support of the group opposing
the Taliban regime as well as collecting information on O and his people.
"2. We have very good relationships with the group headed by the late Gen.
Massoud who was a personal friend of Victor's also, this group as probably known
to you is capable of achieving a lot against the Taliban given the right support,
logistics and guidance. …
"4. We could make the necessary arrangements thru Dushanbe & Iran for logistical
Something 'Out of the Ordinary'
According to the IPIS, Ruprah expressed confidence
that the Northern Alliance could "advance rapidly" if "given the right logistical
and technical support." The final objective, Ruprah added, was to install a
government in Kabul "which had complete support from Tajikistan and sufficient
cooperation from Uzbekistan." (America's subsequent cooperation with these two
paragons of human rights
is well-known). Ruprah proposed brokering the mission to arm the Northern Alliance
and, according to the IPIS, went over quite a shopping list with the agent:
"The requirements for the operation appear normal in many respects: 80-100
trucks; 6,000 AK47s and 5 million rounds ammunition; 1,000 PKM machine guns
and 2 million rounds ammunition; 3,000 RPG7s and 18,000 rounds ammunition; 100
122mm guns and 8,000 shells; 50 Concurs anti-tank launchers, and a handful of
Mi-24v attack helicopters."
Indeed. "What appears out of the ordinary," adds IPIS, "is the request for
40 IGLA Anti Aircraft launchers and 160 missiles." In a droll bit of understatement,
the report adds, "Ideally the proliferation of surface to air missiles should
not be tasked to non-state actors in troubled regions where the free-market
allows these weapons to eventually pass into the hands of terrorists." For the
IPIS, it seemed "perplexing" that the U.S. would be in touch with characters
such as Ruprah and Bout:
"One could then ask why the US government would even accept an offer from
individuals with such a disputed history. A concern would be that the US government
jeopardises becoming entangled in covert arms transfers using unreliable middlemen,
with the weapons, including anti aircraft missiles, later falling into the hands
The Unfortunate Conclusion
The same question remains almost three years
later in regard to the American strategy in Iraq. Is it maybe, just maybe
possible that, by opening the gates of Iraq to let in every dispossessed
spook, every wanted war criminal, every rogue arms dealer in the world,
that the Americans may actually be doing more harm than good in their vaunted
quest for Iraqi "stability"?
It's clear that the Bush administration's obsession with instant security
is being fed by a desire to put a happy face on Iraq in the run-up to the presidential
election. Yet whatever the outcome of that may be, America, Iraq and the world
will continue after November. And so too will the ripple effects of those decisions
being made now, in regards to "anything goes" liberated Iraq.