"What's it like to work in Iraq?" a media representative asked an American senior executive whose company was responsible for rebuilding a share of Iraq's infrastructure. He thought for a moment and said, "It's not engineering, it's combat engineering." The problem, he noted, was that private sector construction professionals were not accustomed to executing combat engineering projects, and they had to climb a steep learning curve. The most important lesson has been, "If it can't be secured, it can't be done."
It is, of course, the security professionals serving on corporate staffs and supporting contract personnel who have had to address the challenge of securing all aspects of the work. As we saw firsthand, those challenges have been considerable.
Part of the problem was that no one originally envisioned such a large role for private security. Early on in the postwar period, when civilian contractors began to bid for reconstruction work, there was an expectation that the military would secure movements to and from work sites as well as provide site security. In fact, early government requests for proposals (RFPs) didn't even mention the need for contractors to secure their operations; it was assumed that the military would do that.
But after a brief period during which coalition forces tried to meet contractor expectations, the level of opposition in post-war Iraq began to outstrip the coalition's capability to deal with it, and military support for contractor operations began to fade away. Military forces assigned to contractors were redirected against the fast growing insurgency. The responsibility for operational security fell quickly to the contractors, with the one notable exception of the search for weapons of mass destruction.
Firms had no choice but to turn to private security companies for help. With one or two exceptions, like the company that secured media personnel during the war, private security was not ready from any perspective to provide the level of professional support required to secure civilians in the early days of the resistance/insurgent environment. It took a great deal of hard work--and some luck--to bring security levels to where they needed to be.
Not only were security managers trying to put together private security staffs to support operations, they were also looking for office space inside and outside the Green Zone, trying to figure out how to create infrastructure to support the client's requirements, and developing relationships with coalition forces for intelligence and quick reaction--to name but a few of the issues that had to be addressed.
Staffing. With regard to the hiring of security officers, some companies chose to go with expatriates. Most found out that the process of recruiting expats meant counting on recruits from the world of special-operations veterans from the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, and Australia.
Others chose to lessen costs with a mix of more Iraqis, which was encouraged by the coalition as a way to employ the many unemployed Iraqis, including soldiers let go when the Iraqi Army was disbanded. Many private security companies entered into agreements with connected Iraqi businesses that then recruited former members of the Republican Guard and Iraqi Special Forces.
The challenge was to find qualified Iraqis without compromising security. Nothing like a traditional background check was possible, of course. We did not see any instances of insurgents infiltrating the forces, but we were concerned that Iraqi security officers might be intimidated into providing the insurgents with information about our movements. For that reason, we did not reveal route choices or missions to Iraqis until just before we were ready to go.
Although Iraqis have proven their loyalty and courage more often than not, their level of training has not consistently inspired confidence among the civilian work force they are securing. …