Fear of rising violence sends bills for bodyguards soaring

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The Independent Online

The Foreign Office is paying £1m a week for private bodyguards to protect its diplomats in Iraq amid growing fears that attacks against Westerners will surge in ferocity as the coalition hands over power to the interim government at the end of the month.

The Foreign Office is paying £1m a week for private bodyguards to protect its diplomats in Iraq amid growing fears that attacks against Westerners will surge in ferocity as the coalition hands over power to the interim government at the end of the month.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Foreign Office ministers have tripled their spending on personal security after advisers said staff in Iraq are at even greater risk of being targeted by insurgents and al-Qa'ida forces in the run-up to 30 June.

This leap in spending will focus fresh attention on the increasingly significant role played by private security firms in Iraq after a little-known company run by Lt Col Tim Spicer - the former Guards officer at the centre of the "arms to Sierra Leone" scandal in 1999 - won a huge £280m deal with the Pentagon last month to provide security staff in Iraq.

Security experts now openly predict that the recent attacks on Westerners and non-Iraqis - culminating in the deaths of two Japanese journalists and several British civilians - could be dwarfed by more violence in the next few weeks.

Two of the British "close protection" staff killed in Iraq last month worked for Control Risks and ArmorGroup - the two firms now earning £1m a week with the Foreign Office. One was a former British soldier hired by Control Risks to protect FCO diplomats and its contractors. Mark Carman, 38, was killed alongside Bob Morgan, a 63-year-old oil expert from Merthyr Tydfil coaxed out of retirement by the FCO to work in Iraq, in a rocket attack outside the coalition's headquarters on 24 May. Six days earlier, an ArmorGroup employee, Andrew Harries, 34, from Aberdare, was shot dead by a sniper when his convoy was attacked near Mosul, northern Iraq.

A spokesman for Control Risks said: "We've seen much greater targeting of civilian contractors and their support teams. I think in the run-up to 30 June the situation will become more dangerous and more volatile, because there are so many people with an interest in making it volatile."

The two firms, which have been working for the FCO in Iraq since July last year have now been awarded short-term contracts worth £8.2m just for bodyguards and security staff for May and June - staff mainly drawn from former members of the British Army, SAS and Royal Marines. The money is being spent on providing specialist personal bodyguards for the FCO's 180 diplomats and junior staff, private security advisers and static guards at its offices in cities such as Baghdad and Basra.

That £1m a week bill is roughly three times the value of the previous contracts with Control Risks and ArmorGroup, which added up to more than £14m for the nine months between July last year and April 2004.

The Department for International Development (DFID) has spent another £9m hiring bodyguards. Its spending will leap again from 1 July - when the coalition cedes power to the Iraqi interim administration - when the FCO takes over all the government private security contracts for Iraq and signs longer-term deals .

The new contract awarded to Lt Col Spicer's firm, Aegis Defence Services, surprised other private military companies: it beat off competition from much larger US and UK firms - reportedly including Control Risks. One industry observer said: "Aegis is a relatively small and unknown company and to pull off a contract like this in the face of stiff - largely American - competition is remarkable."

Lt Col Spicer played a pivotal role in the Sandline Affair, when his firm attempted to fly in weapons to aid the exiled Sierra Leonian government led by Ahmad Tejan Kabbah - in breach of a UN arms embargo. The then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had to fight off allegations the deal was sanctioned by British officials. In 1996, Lt Col Spicer and a mercenary force he was leading was arrested at gunpoint in Papua New Guinea.

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