Reports about armed confrontations between active duty U.S. and coalition military forces and coalition armed private military contractors in Iraq have gone from a trickle to a steady flow. While fragging incidents between U.S. enlisted and officers were more commonplace in Vietnam than ever admitted by the Pentagon, the violence between active military and quasi-mercenaries in Iraq is a fairly new phenomenon, according to U.S. military experts. What is occurring in Iraq is not friendly fire but willful fighting between occupation forces. In late May fighting broke out betwee in Fallujah between armed contractors working for Zapata Engineering, a North Carolina firm, and U.S. Marines. The Zapata employees reportedly fired on Marine security positions. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Marines witnessed the Zapata employees firing on civilians and in a letter to 16 Zapata employees banning them from Iraq the Marine Corps stated, “Your convoy was speeding through [Fallujah] and firing shots indiscriminately, some of which impacted positions manned by U.S. Marines. Your actions endangered the lives of innocent Iraqis and U.S. service members in the area.”
In addition, last year there were a number of incidents between US Army personnel (including officers) and armed employees of the Rhode Island-based and GOP-connected firm Custer Battles. The firm, which was accused of over billing the government, was later suspended from doing work in Iraq, although it has recently resurfaced under different corporate identities and off shore corporate shells. A number of Custer Battles’s Iraq employees are non-vetted veterans of U.S. and foreign (British SAS, South African and Australian Special Forces, and Colombian and Salvadorean death squad veterans, e.g.) paramilitary and special operations campaigns. Many lack the cultural awareness training and obligations required of active duty US forces in Iraq. Many private military contractors have committed atrocities against Iraqi civilians that are often blamed on the US military. The involvement of two contractors, CACI and Titan, in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, has added to the enmity between the military and contractors.
This military-contractor schism has resulted in overall bad blood between the military and the privateers throughout Iraq and has resulted in armed confrontations between active duty military and Custer Battles personnel, especially in and around Baghdad International Airport, where Custer Battles has been involved in security operations. Last November, there were a number of shooting incidents and other physical altercations between US Army troops and Custer Battles personnel at Baghdad airport. Some contractors have sought to downplay and obfuscate the fratricidal combat. They have insinuated in security alerts that Iraqi insurgents have masqueraded as contractor personnel in attacking Iraqi civilians and US military personnel. The US military scoff at this notion.
There are also reports that US military intelligence personnel look the other way when they receive word of an Iraqi insurgent (secular ex-Republican Guard, not Zarqawi or affiliated) attack on private military contractors. A recent For Official Use Only (“FOUO”) US Army PowerPoint briefing provided to this reporter states that the Iraqi insurgency is split into three independent groups – the “Islamic Ultra-Conservative;” the Sunni, former regime, anti-Sh’ia, anti-Kurd supported by the Baathists in Syria and “anti-West sympathizers; and the Sh’ia who “seek government control, used to taking position as underdog” and “draws support from sympathizers in Iran.”
Many US military personnel, especially National Guardsmen and Reservists, are jealous of the large salaries paid to the private contractors. For every ten US military personnel in Iraq, there is now one private military support contractor. In Operation Desert Storm, the ratio was one in 60. There may be as many as 35,000 private military contractors now in Iraq.
The conflicts between the US military and contractors stem from disparity in pay and benefits between the military and contractors; the contractors’ lack of discipline and cultural awareness (“cowboy” and racist attitudes); illegal activities by the contractors; and a belief by contractors that the US military is not doing enough to protect them.