‘Outside the gate, it’s the wild west. We are basically a taxi service with guns’
The day starts at different times when you work as private security detail (PSD) in Iraq, depending on what the operation is. Certainly, if we have to go out of the GZ [Green Zone] then we can’t leave before a certain time in the morning because there are curfews. We don’t tend to travel at night and we always wait for first light.
We will have our breakfast – our new chef does good pancakes with scrambled eggs and I’ll have some bacon and sausage if I can get it – and I’ll listen to a bit of BBC Radio 7, some Steptoe and Son or another comedy maybe. We live in a five-bedroom villa in Baghdad, it’s rented from a former Ba’ath party member and costs about $15,000 (£7,600) a month. It’s probably the most expensive real estate in the world. Our company has got two villas, and there are about 30 people living between them.
It all really starts the day before when you get the tasking and you can look at how to go about it. At the briefing, the team that protects an individual will get orders for that move and you will fully discuss it and make sure that everything you are going to do on that journey is covered.
We have a number of different agencies that supply information that we rely on and we work with local nationals and they have real-time experience of what’s going on over there. Listening to the news is very important.
We check the cars, make sure the fuel is full, that everything works, that your weapons are loaded, that your medical pack is in there and you check your electronic equipment – our radios, sat com and the devices we can send out a help signal from if we need it. In Iraq it varies what weapons people use from company to company, but probably the most used weapon is the AK-47.
We rely on this kit to actually work and we have people who will upkeep it. The cars that you use are your lifeblood. We use ordinary-looking cars so that we blend in.
Other people use higher-profile vehicles. When you are in a low-profile vehicle, you don’t shoot back. We have got a lot of vehicles so that if something is wrong you can swap. We travel in three cars but we are not an obvious convoy. We wear the same clothes as the locals. We do not look corporate. The point is to break up your outline, so that you blend in as much as possible.
We will then go and pick up our client. You can get up and have a normal morning and then move outside the gate and it’s the wild west. It could be 10 minutes later and you are dead. The work we do is a variety, really. We protect people involved in reconstruction projects all around Iraq.
They have to be able to get about but they are construction people building in a war zone and they have to be extremely well protected.
You have seven or eight people to protect one person, just to move them from A to B. It’s very simple, you are basically a taxi service with guns. But there’s a lot of work that goes into making it as safe as possible. We work two months on and one month off. It’s stressful. Obviously with what’s occurring, with the militias, the checkpoints, that the police are generally part of the militias.
On occasions you will see IEDs [improvised explosive devices] on the side of the road, ready to go off, you’ll see tyres with wires sticking out. They are aiming for the high-profile vehicle. In a low-profile vehicle they don’t really impact on us because we are not so visible and open to attack. You can identify a high-profile vehicle from 100 yards and they are much more likely to catch these kind of things.
You are on the lookout for people who want to harm you. What you are searching for is things that are out of the norm and that you can avoid. Your job is to get someone from A to B, not to go out and fight people. It’s not a gung-ho, take-on anyone type business. It might come to that if you get into a contact.
If it gets too dangerous you need to know that it is too difficult and we should turn back. Our most important aim is to get the client there alive and if you need to avoid or go back and think again, then we need to do that. I have had lots of different situations really – being shot at and ambushed and stuff. We have our rules of engagement, you are not allowed to shoot people willy nilly. What you think about is avoiding danger. In the very last instance you will defend yourself with everything that you’ve got. Most of the American PSDs are set up to fight from the get-go but we’re not like that.
The job could be just round the corner or miles away. You could have to go somewhere and it takes three days to get there. It’s very much a moveable feast sometimes, what you plan on doing and what you end up doing. Certainly you have adrenalin going, you don’t take things for granted and you have to remain very focused.
The people who come to this job are trained to operate in this place. I was an officer in the military and I’ve been working in Baghdad for a couple of years. You can trust the other PSDs you work with. They are a particular type of person and everything is on peer approval. People who don’t fit in or make the right noises will be out of a job. The people out in Iraq now are properly trained and all ex-forces. In the old days they would employ nightclub bouncers who just wanted to get out there and shoot stuff.
I work eight months of the year and I am paid about £90,000 a year, tax free, which probably equates to about £150,000. The wages are higher in the industry than they were pre-Iraq.
I like it because your life becomes focused on very small things, you go away and do your work and come back and enjoy yourself. It is very easy to plan your future because you know what you will be up to.
Essentially, it’s a very regimented type of existence. Soldiers are a particular type of animal and we are trained to go to war and so close protection work is an extension of that and that’s why we do it in spite of the risk.
I don’t think anyone goes out there with the idea that they are going to get slotted [killed] though it is a possibility. If you look at it, it probably won’t happen – statistically most people aren’t going to die working Iraq. There’s not that many ex-pats that have been killed.
If I was kidnapped I am not sure I would let them take me alive. I would think I would have to end it. I wouldn’t want to end up in an orange jumpsuit. You need to figure out what you would do. You look at the bodies that have turned up of American soldiers, they have been drilled and hammered.
You have to figure, what if you were rescued after that, you wouldn’t want to be around with chunks missing.
Everybody over there is over 21 – it’s big boys’ games.
I will probably bin it fairly soon. I think the writing is on the wall for Baghdad. I think it is about to go ballistic. The Baghdad security plan is not going to work. Other people will no doubt stay because they want the money but I think there comes a time when you need to ask, is this sustainable? There are people working in Baghdad for very little money but to them it is a fortune. The South Africans who are there think they are earning film stars’ wages because it goes a long way in their country.
I don’t look at Baghdad as being particularly well-paid. I don’t think it’s a cash jamboree but I am constantly balancing probabilities. You would be an idiot not to balance with what’s tenable. It’s almost hell on earth out there. I feel bad for the Iraqis.
When our task has ended we drop off the client and go back to the villa. Inside the villa life is weird, it’s very military. There’s a huge screen TV with loads of DVDs and there’s a gym upstairs. You manufacture a lot of adrenalin when you are outside and you have got to get rid of it or you get stressed. We have a meal and watch a film – you can get all the new releases on dodgy DVD. Then we might have an O [orders] group where we will get our brief for the next day. Then it’s bed and back out into Baghdad in the morning.