Balkans Soldiers Find Fortune in Baghdad.

Fighting gets into your veins, said men who fought in former Yugoslavia. And so now that peace has come to their homeland, many have moved to Iraq.

"There is no doubt that there is a growing demand for mercenaries or soldiers of fortune in Iraq," military analyst Slobodan Kljakic told IPS. "Within the community close to those circles, a number of between 500 and 1,000 Serbs is mentioned. They have already obtained contracts to work as security staff or bodyguards in Iraq."

U.S. corporate giants engaged in oil exploitation and reconstruction of Iraq such as Halliburton or the San Francisco-based Bechtel have turned to private security companies like Blackwater Security Consulting or Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), Kljakic says.

U.S. and British sources place the number of privately contracted security personnel in Iraq between 10,000 and 15,000.

"It's up to them (security companies) to try to find and subcontract the workforce for Iraq," Kljakic said. "After that it's easy for people from here to enter Iraq." Under decades-old regulation, Serbs do not need visas for Iraq.

Besides the mercenaries who are rarely mentioned publicly, Serbs are getting other business offers. Some of the largest international media outlets are relying on Serb crews, given their experience in war coverage and because they can easily enter the country.

The role of civilians contracted to work in Iraq came under the spotlight after four U.S. security contractors met grisly deaths in Fallujah in March.

In the Balkans, where interest in Iraq is low, this event attracted particular attention. One of those killed was a Croat, Jerry Zovko, who changed his first name when he became a naturalised U.S. citizen.

"It's a public secret that people engaged in this line of work can earn between 100,000 and 200,000 dollars a year," says Croatian journalist Marina Seric. Her research in the Zovko case attracted wide attention in Croatia.

"One cannot establish the exact number of Croats who have been contracted to work as security personnel in Iraq," she told IPS. "But the bottom line is that they all used to be professional soldiers. They are aged between 30-45. Depending on their experience they do different jobs -- simple protection, logistics, training."

Serb youth seems to have found a new hero. The Belgrade press has carried interviews with Misha Misic, a security specialist who earns 500 dollars a day in Baghdad protecting oilfields. He claims to have gone to Iraq as an adventurer to earn money.

"With more and more countries withdrawing their troops from Iraq, as Spain did, the U.S. will break new ground in modern warfare," says foreign policy analyst Predrag Simic. "More and more mercenaries will take the place of regular troops. It might look as a kind of relief for the public in those countries that sent troops to Iraq, as the bodies of mercenaries are shipped home in coffins without national flags or fanfare."

Stories of mercenaries going to Iraq abound in Serbia, but it is hard to trace the channels that lead them there. From time to time, small ads appear in Serbian papers announcing "the need for security personnel with experience". The phones in the ads are not local. Similar ads are appearing in newspapers in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Serbia has some 3,000 security firms. Most employ some 30,000 former policemen or war veterans. These companies put up a wall of silence every time Iraq is mentioned.

Owners of the two most prominent security firms, Fitep and Protecta, decline to speak about mercenaries, and say people are free to do individually whatever they want.

"There is no licensing or official registration of those agencies," Marko Nicovic, vice-president of the International Bodyguard and Security Services Association told IPS. "Many are closely linked both to criminals and police. There is absolutely no control, there is a complete chaos."

Nicovic says mercenaries could be finding their way to Iraq through sub- contracting companies that advertise on the Internet. "It's easier, safer for them," he says.

Nicovic points to a recent statement by Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-founded International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The South African jurist said former hit men from South Africa together with Serb mercenaries and war criminals are finding gainful employment in Iraq.

"It is just a horrible thought that such people are working for the Americans," Goldstone said.

[Source: Vesna Peric Zimonjic, IPS, Belgrade, 12May04]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

War in Iraq
small logoThis document has been published on 21May04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.