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Security guards in Iraq risk lives in exchange for big paychecks

Security guards in Iraq risk lives in exchange for big paychecks

Why would any Iraqi take one of the most dangerous civilian jobs in the country?
Because they can earn US$350 a month working as a security guard in Baghdad. Although the country's economy remains in ruins, the private protection business is a growth industry.
That's why Saif, a carpenter from northern Iraq who came to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, said he accepted the job despite the dangers. Unable to find work in his trade, he's been working for an American security company for nearly three years. He asked that his real name and the name of the company he works for not be used because of security concerns.
"You don't know which moment a car bomb or a suicide bomber might hit you," he said. "If the insurgents get a chance, they will kill me right away."
Still, there's plenty of work available and the pay is good - although not as lucrative as the US$200,000-a-year some ex-members of the U.S. and British military can earn providing security in Iraq.
"It's a tiring job with no future," he said of the security business. "My work brings me more hate than love from people. People see me carrying a gun all the time. A gun is hateful. It is not a friend, it's an enemy."
Saif, 26, said he spends three weeks away from home guarding a compound, working eight-hour shifts, and then has a week off to visit his family. While on duty, he always wears full body armor - a flak jacket and helmet - and works in an area surrounded by concrete barriers.
"It's like a prison," he said of his job site.
Because Iraqis who work for foreign companies are often the target of attacks, Saif tells most of his friends and neighbors that he's still working as a carpenter.
"There is no trust these days - you're even afraid of your brother," he said. "If I tell a friend it will soon spread. Even if someone does not have anything against you personally, he'll send a threatening letter so you'll quit your job."
It seems that these days, everyone in Iraq is ready to shoot first and ask questions later, Saif said. He recalled how while on duty one night, he and several other guards - Iraqis and Americans - came under fire from gunmen. One of the Americans was injured during the attack and two of his colleagues took him to a hospital for treatment.
When the three were returning from the hospital, however, a fellow security guard mistakenly opened fire on them.
"They were driving on the wrong side of the road, so (the security guard) thought they were insurgents," Saif said. "He opened fire on their car and injured the two Americans who'd taken their friend to hospital," said Saif, laughing. "They took one injured man to the hospital and the three of them ended up hurt."
Saif said he's received numerous souvenirs from his American co-workers, such as photos, pocketknives and a baseball cap. Still, he said he'll be glad when there are fewer security guard jobs available in his country. He recalled how a favorite cousin, who also worked for the same security firm, was shot in the head while off-duty. His cousin survived, but now cannot speak and his left hand is paralyzed.
Thinking of his injured cousin as well as five other co-workers who have been killed by insurgents, Saif said softly, "I cannot bear it any more."


Updated : 2021-10-20 17:21 GMT+08:00