FINANCIAL TIMES – The military skills of Islamist insurgents in Iraq are being improved by soldiers from the former regime who are joining with foreign fighters in the war against occupying troops, according to the security chief overseeing civilian contractors. “You have people who know what they are doing,” said Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former British army officer who now heads Aegis Defence Services, which coordinates the activities of private contractors and security companies involved in Iraqi reconstruction projects.
“The Ba’athists are growing their beards and moving alongside the Zarqawi types,” he said, referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His group, which announced last week it had created an alliance with al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for numerous kidnappings and the beheading of hostages.
In his first interview since the UK-based company won the $293m security contract in June, Mr Spicer said: “The biggest problem that will continue to trouble us will be the linking together of Islamists with al-Qaeda, and the fact that Iraq will be a magnet for attacks on UK and US forces. The future Osama bin Ladens are being trained in Iraq.”
The intensity of the current fighting between US forces and insurgents in Fallujah presumed to be loyal to Mr Zarqawi, as well as to other groups, has focused attention away from areas of Iraq that are relatively stable, Mr Spicer said.
“There is an understandable view that Iraq is like that all over, when actually it’s not. Setting the situation in Fallujah aside, it’s still possible to operate,” he said, after a week-long journey by road from the southern coast to the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.
Aegis’s main role is to gather intelligence on the security situation from the multinational forces and other informers, and distribute it to the private security companies protecting civilian contractors. The company was formed in 2001 and has rapidly expanded to employ 600 people, most of them in Iraq. The kidnapping and killing of foreign contractors by insurgents is the biggest challenge facing the private security companies Aegis is contracted to co-ordinate. “You have three different types of insurgent and they are not all quite working together,” said Mr Spicer. Since US action forced the capitulation of the Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers in Najaf, Iraqi Sunnis, foreign fighters grouped around Mr Zarqawi and former Ba’athists have led the insurgency, he said.
“There is a danger from extreme Ba’athists becoming Islamist. There are [former Iraqi] soldiers who don’t need much training. They are doing the roadside bombing. But they are also doing conventional military operations,” he said.