July 18, 2003
U.S. Considers Private Iraqi Force to Guard Sites
By DOUGLAS JEHL
ASHINGTON, July 17 — The Pentagon is considering a plan to train a private Iraqi security force and make it responsible for guarding pipelines, government buildings and hundreds of other sites in Iraq, military officials said today.
The new private force, to be composed primarily of former Iraqi soldiers armed with small weapons, would take over from American troops the guard duties at as many as 2,000 sites, the officials said. Such a force would provide jobs to potentially thousands of unemployed Iraqis and ease the burden on an American military that is finding itself stretched thin in Iraq despite the presence there of nearly 150,000 soldiers. Some Pentagon officials believe private Iraqi security guards at prominent government sites could help ease tensions created by the atmosphere of foreign military occupation.
But such a transfer would also raise some security concerns by putting more weapons in the hands of the former Iraqi soldiers and other Iraqis who would compose a force that could include hundreds or even thousands of security guards, the officials said. They said the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and private American companies, including Kroll Inc., a well-known private security consulting concern, were discussing how members of the proposed force could be screened and approved.
The cost of training the Iraqi force would likely be paid by United States taxpayers, military officials said. The salaries for the Iraqi guards might also be paid by the United States, the officials said, at least until an Iraqi government emerges, although funds could be drawn from Iraqi oil revenue.
The proposed force, under discussion at the highest levels of the Pentagon, would be separate from the new Iraqi Army and Iraqi police force.
"The idea, first and foremost, is to have Iraqis providing security for Iraq, at places like the National Museum and other fixed sites, and there are civilian companies that do this very well," a senior military official said today. "An added benefit is that we definitely want to reduce the load on American soldiers."
A senior executive at Kroll said in a telephone interview that the company had been involved in "brainstorming sessions" in Baghdad with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority about a possible role for the company in establishing a private Iraqi security force.
"Our sense is that the military has too much on their plate right now, and that these are issues that need to be addressed, and the way to do that is through the private sector," said the executive, Anne Tiedemann, a regional managing director and head of Kroll's Europe, Middle East and Africa Region.
Ms. Tiedemann said the talks had not gone beyond a discussion phase, and military officials in Washington said no final decision had been reached. The officials would not offer any estimate of when the force might be established, how large it might be or what it might cost.
But the officials said that senior officers at the United States Central Command and the Pentagon were in favor of the idea and were proceeding on the assumption that the plan would swiftly be approved. They said they believed that the cost of training the Iraqi guards would be paid by American taxpayers.
"There will be a vetting process, because we have to insure as best we can that we don't put weapons in the hands of the wrong people," one senior officer said. "But having said that, there are already vast amounts of weapons out there in Iraq in the hands of former regime officials, and compared to that this would be just a drop in the bucket."
Ms. Tiedemann said she recognized that "certainly there are some sensitivities about potentially arming individuals who might be perceived to some people as being high risk." Still, she said, "There is absolutely a way to address all of these issues, from a vetting standpoint, from a training standpoint, from a cultural standpoint, to be inclusive."
Kroll, based in New York, conducted an investigation in the early 1990's to determine the location and value of assets Saddam Hussein's regime had hidden outside of Iraq. The investigation was done for the Kuwaiti government as part of an effort to determine what assets could be seized as reparations for the damage to Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
Under the plan described by the military officials, Kroll or another private American company would be awarded a contract to provide training for the new Iraqi security force and would work with the American military and intelligence agencies in screening its members.
So far the United States has taken a leading role in the reestablishment both of a new, smaller Iraqi Army and a revitalized Iraqi police force. American officials are stripping the forces of top commanders and insisting that the officers, soldiers and policemen disavow any ties to the Baath Party and Mr. Hussein's regime.
In outlining plans last month to form a new Iraqi Army over the next three years, American and British officials said the force would amount to about 40,000 soldiers, one-tenth the size of Mr. Hussein's armed forces at their peak. Walter B. Slocombe, the senior American official in Iraq responsible for the dissolution of Mr. Hussein's armed forces, said an initial force of 12,000 would be formed within a year.
That Iraqi force would operate without an air force, Mr. Slocombe said, and would be responsible for guarding the country's borders and key installations.
The occupation powers also agreed last month to pay, for an indefinite period, the salaries of up to 250,000 idled Iraqi soldiers. But most of those soldiers remain out of work, and American officials said one benefit of a new security force is that it could provide jobs for at least some of the unemployed soldiers.
A senior United States military official said today that creating a private security force to guard some installations in Iraq made sense for the same reason that private security forces were used to guard American installations like the Smithsonian Institution and power plants.
"There are lots of times when it doesn't make sense to put the military out front," the official said. "And in many instances, we think it will be better for the Iraqi people to see private Iraqi security guards instead of the American or Iraqi Army."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company