After more than seven years of the Iraq War, I am still not sure whether the war was necessary. There are too many unknowns – were there WMDs, was Saddam a real threat to the region (the world), has it created a larger power vacuum for Iran to step into. Added to these is a new one I have not thought much about – the role of private security firms (or mercenaries as some like to call them) in war.
If you are like me, you don’t know much about private security firms other than knowing that Blackwater is one of them. In an effort to get a better understanding of these firms and their impact on the Iraq War, I recently read Steve Fainaru’s Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq.
The book grew from a series of articles that Fainaru wrote for the Washington Post in 2008 (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize). As with many books written by journalists, it is easy to read, but not well cited. He quotes other books without any proper citation. He also interviews many people involved in the private security industry, but many are not cited because the sources want to remain anonymous.
Fainaru frames the book around a group of mercenaries who work for a little-known security firm called Crescent Security Group – a company owned by a South African who hired almost anyone who was willing to carry a gun and escort convoys in very hostile situations in Iraq. Fainaru gets to know some of these men – especially a former 82nd Airborne paratrooper named Jon Cote. Some of you may recall this story (I faintly remember it), but seven of the mercenaries were caught in a trap when they were escorting a convoy. Five of them were kidnapped. Fainaru weaves the story of their fate throughout the book.
I think the book is well done – it brings to light a world that is not easily uncovered due to the secrecy of the security firms and the U.S. government. Fainaru explains how and why for many years the security firms had free range to do whatever they wanted in Iraq – based completely on Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 that, according Fainaru, gave the security firms immunity from Iraqi law until the last of the multinational forces are removed or the Iraqi government overturns it. If half of what Fainaru writes is true, many of these security firms are out of control. For example, Blackwater (under contract for the U.S. State Department) was cited as being untouchable because the State Department refused to curb their excessive use of force.
I have one problem with the book – I am not too sure how much of an objective account this book is because Fainaru seems to have a bent against the war and anything associated with it. His attitude runs as a negative undercurrent throughout the book.
This book provides an interesting account of the security firms in Iraq.