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$1000 a day for commandos

Washington, April 14: With a growing number among Iraq’s new police and army refusing to fight other Iraqis, weak allies such as the Bulgarians and the Ukrainians reluctant to leave their garrisons for fear of being attacked and the occupied country virtually spinning out of control, America is harking back to one of the most sordid chapters of its foreign affairs to pursue George W. Bush’s vision of a democratic West Asia.

Scores of Chilean ex-commandos, many trained by Americans during the notorious US-supported dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, are being hired to guard sensitive Iraqi installations and provide security for authorities created by Washington’s viceroy in Baghdad, Paul Bremer.

Gary Jackson, president of Blackwater USA, has confirmed the recruitment by saying that “we scour the ends of the earth to find professionals: the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system...This is not the Boy Scouts”.

It was the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater security personnel, followed by the closure of a Shia newspaper by Bremer, which set off the current spiral of violence in Iraq.

A first group of 60 Chilean mercenaries recruited from Santiago are now guarding Baghdad airport. Lured by salaries of up to $1,000 per day, serving commandos and special forces are leaving the Chilean army to work as mercenaries in Iraq.

According to Chilean media reports, defence minister Michelle Bachelet is investigating complaints that Blackwater violated Chilean laws on use of weapons by private citizens by providing paramilitary training for these mercenaries at its camp in North Carolina.

Such recruitment of merchants of death is not confined to Chile. The Americans are reaching out to reap rewards from investments they made earlier in training special forces in Bosnia, the Philippines and other countries. White South African, Bosnian, Filipino and even American mercenaries are now providing security to US supply convoys, securing oil and power installations or guarding Bremer.

Last week, South Africa’s ministry of defence issued a statement prohibiting South Africans from offering security or military services in Iraq without the express permission of defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota. Defence ministry spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi later clarified that anyone offering such services was liable to prosecution under the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998.

The statement and clarification came after a white South African who worked for the apartheid police was killed and five others were injured in a bomb blast in Iraq and amidst reports that a big exodus from the army on short-term leave was likely because of recruitment of mercenaries in Iraq.

According to reports in the British media, the biggest export from the UK to post-Saddam Iraq is in the form of security services provided by private armies which guard civil servants on secondment from Whitehall, private contractors and Iraqi installations. At a credible estimate of 18,000 men, mercenaries now constitute the second biggest armed force of the coalition.

Estimates put the number of mercenaries killed in the past week at around 80, a figure which their employers are trying hard to hide.

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