Baghdad – 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.
Lieutenant-General Mark Kimmitt admitted on Tuesday that “about 70″ American and other Western troops had died during the Iraqi insurgency since April 1 but he made no mention of the mercenaries, apparently fearful that the full total of Western dead would have serious political fallout.
He did not give a figure for Iraqi dead, which, across the country may be as high as 900.
At least 18 000 mercenaries, many of them tasked to protect US troops and personnel, are now believed to be in Iraq, some of them earning $1 000 (about R6 300) a day. But their companies rarely acknowledge their losses unless – like the four American murdered and mutilated in Fallujah three weeks ago – their deaths are already public knowledge.
The presence of such large numbers of mercenaries, first publicised in The Independent two weeks ago, was bound to lead to further casualties.
But although many of the heavily armed Western security men are working for the US Department of Defence – and most of them are former Special Forces soldiers – they are not listed as serving military personnel. Their losses can therefore be hidden from public view.
The US authorities in Iraq, however, are aware that more Western mercenaries lost their lives in the past week than occupation soldiers over the past 14 days.
The coalition has sought to rely on foreign contract workers to reduce the number of soldiers it uses as drivers, guards and in other jobs normally carried out by uniformed soldiers.
Often the foreign contract workers are highly paid former soldiers who are armed with automatic weapons, leading to Iraqis viewing all foreign workers as possible mercenaries or spies.