Not mercenaries, these

Despite Jivha’s continued insistence, the Indian ex-servicemen caught in the Iraq mayhem are not mercenaries.

Working as a private security guard for a power plant near Basra, Kapoor would often walk around in the markets of An-Nasiriyah and Basra and marvel at how cheap everything in Iraq was—thanks to his monthly salary of Rs 1.5 lakh with free boarding and lodging.

Kapoor was sent by the Mumbai-based Trig Guardforce security firm, to work for an Indo-Sweden venture involved in laying high-voltage power lines in the war-torn country.

‘‘We were going from Basra to An-Nasiriyah on duty to check high power transmission lines when we heard gunshots from two cars in front of us.’’ His engineer colleague, Santosh Ghalsasi, was fatally shot in the neck. The car driver was also killed. [Indian Express]

We need, first of all, to understand the scenario with some clarity. There are many categories of Indians in Iraq today. There are those, for instance, who have been working there even before the war last year — some of whom have been living in Iraq for decades, even generations. A lot of these people would have lost their jobs in the upheaval caused by the war and its aftermath, and would be looking for sources of subsistence and employment in a country now mired in lawlessness. There are also many who have recently gone to Iraq in search of jobs, either legally or otherwise, either through contractors or independently. The emoluments on offer — going by the hazards involved — are much higher than normal. Many, therefore, are willing to risk their lives in order to get these jobs, which are in great demand. A single US contractor has 100,000 applicants on its waiting list!

The question that we should be asking ourselves is what can India do to make life more secure for its citizens working in Iraq [Indian Express]

Exploitation of workers seeking jobs in the Gulf and elsewhere is an age-old problem. When India was shining less, these workers were an important source of foreign exchange inflows, yet there is no systematic process to protect them. Indian Airlines and Air India conducted a massive air-lift of over 100,000 Indian workers during the last Gulf war, but that was an emergency measure.

Related Links: Darren Kaplan on the legal definition of mercenary, and an interesting discussion on Fried Man.

6 thoughts on “Not mercenaries, these”

  1. Nitin,

    What would you call the people employed from US outfits like Blackwater in Iraq? Security guards?

    A Blackwater spokesman, Chris Bertelli, said the group had 450 people in Iraq, most armed with the 5.56 mm M4 rifle. Blackwater has 21-million-dollar contract with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to guard U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and five outposts, he said.

    It also has private contracts, details undisclosed, such as protecting the convoy that was ambushed in Fallujah. “Almost all of them are weapon-carrying,” Bertelli said.

    Employees there – many ex-Navy SEALs or Army Rangers – were restricted to rifles of a caliber up to 7.62 mm.

    Bertelli confirmed an account of an April 5 firefight in Najaf, where Blackwater commandos fought resistance fighters for hours, firing thousands of rounds, to defend the CPA outpost.

    Blackwater used helicopters from the Bremer detail to re-supply its commandos with ammunition, he said.

    Doesn’t sound like passive security detail does it? What do you think they’re paid for when an Iraqi group of people storms their outpost/security detail? Give way?

    I don’t think we should call people from for-hire outfits like Blackwater as ‘mercenaries’ while labelling Indians as ‘security guards’. Combat, even lethal will be part of their mandate. And I’m not talking self-defense here but defense of their security detail.

    Finally here’s two situations which may illustrate my point:

    1. A bunch of ex-Seals are hired by a private outfit upon the insistence of the US State Department to guard valuable Diamond mines in a sub-Saharan country ruled by a despot facing the prospect of civil war.

    2. A bunch of ex-Indian Army folks hired by a private outfit upon the insistence of the US Army to guard Oil Wells in a country that was ruled by a despot once propped up by the USA but now facing anarchy due to the same USA.

    Are the people in 1 mercenaries or security guards? And how different are they from the people in 2?

  2. Jivha,

    “Mercenary” is more than a dictionary definition, its a legal definition; see a discussion on Darren Kaplan’s blog; he contends that American veterans are residents of a Party to the conflict and hence not mercenaries. In case of the Indian security guards, available reports show that they did not actually take part in the hostilities. They are not mercenaries either.

    You may want to see a discussion on Michael Friedman’s blog too

  3. Even the dictionary defintion does not apply in that mercinaries fight for a military for money. The Indians who have gone to Iraq are working mostly as contractors to private companies and ogranizations to provide security to private organizations and companies. They are not fighting for the coalition or the US military.

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