Ex-Gurkhas killed in Baghdad attack on UK security firm

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The Independent Online

A mortar attack has killed four former Gurkhas working for a British security company in Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified headquarters for the US and the Iraqi interim government.

A mortar attack has killed four former Gurkhas working for a British security company in Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified headquarters for the US and the Iraqi interim government.

"The mortar shells hit a camp for the Gurkhas inside the Green Zone," said a senior Iraqi government official, adding that 15 others were wounded. A column of black smoke rose into the sky over the zone on Thursday when the attack took place, but the casualties were only announced yesterday.

In Fallujah, two US Marines were killed and three wounded yesterday when they were ambushed during house searches. Three rebels were killed. In the northern capital of Mosul, a further 13 bodies were discovered, bringing to 35 the number found since an insurgent uprising took over much of the city last week.

The US capture of Fallujah is making Baghdad more dangerous. Many resistance fighters have moved to the capital, where they are difficult to detect.

The Gurkhas were working for the London-based security firm Global Risk Strategies, one of many security companies working in Baghdad.

Gurkhas are a frequent sight guarding the entrances to the Green Zone and at Baghdad International airport.

Mortar shells and rockets are fired every day into the Green Zone, situated in Saddam Hussein's palace complex on the Tigris river in the heart of Baghdad, and echoes from explosions resound across the city.

The US occupation has been criticised by Iraqis for taking over Saddam's palace complex immediately after the invasion. It rapidly became a very visible symbol of Iraq's humiliation and an easy four-kilometre square target for insurgents to aim at.

The presence of foreign security companies has helped make Baghdad a uniquely dangerous place. While some keep a low profile, others move in readily identifiable four-wheel drives with blacked-out windows, driving at high speed. They cultivate an air of mystery and claim their men have special expertise in staying alive in hostile environments. Their services are extremely expensive.

By contrast, the Gurkhas in Baghdad appear more relaxed and friendlier than other former soldiers who have arrived in the city over the past 18 months. If the aim of the private security firms was to enable foreigners and members of the Iraqi interim government to move freely in Baghdad they have entirely failed. Foreigners live in the Green Zone or a few heavily guarded enclaves, usually centred on a hotel.

The danger of venturing out of one of these fortified compounds was underlined earlier this week when Jim Mollen, the American embassy's senior consultant to the ministries of education and higher education, was shot dead. Friends say that they do not know what he was doing unprotected a mile from the Green Zone, where he lived.

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