The Private Security Industry in the Kurdistan Region
The Kurdistan Region is arguably unique in its status as a rapidly developing transitional society that, owing to its semiautonomous nature, is often perceived as a state within a state. It shall be argued here that it is likely that the private security industry (PSI) will play a major role in assisting the rapid development of the region, and may prove invaluable to the security of Kurdistan amidst the current conflict with Islamic State (IS) insurgents.
The Kurdistan Region is precariously situated in the midst of a Middle East in turmoil. With Syria to the west, and a fragmented Iraq to the south, displaced people and IS insurgents are putting great pressure on the already over-burdened security forces of the KRG. The need for a strong security sector is without question.
The private security industry has undoubtedly experienced a period of extremely rapid growth since the first ‘privatised war’ in Iraq in 2003, and it is arguable that the industry has developed too quickly for the law to keep up with it. This is especially pertinent considering that, for the last decade or so, the PSI has adopted roles traditionally understood to be the sole responsibility of the state.
The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous entity with a permanent population. It exists in a territorially defined space (albeit contested to the south), and has a government (the KRG) that is recognised as legitimate amongst its citizens and has the capacity to enter into relations with other states. These characteristics meet the criteria for the classic definition of a state as articulated in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. In light of this, in virtually every conceivable aspect, the Kurdistan Region has become an entity that possesses the necessary domestic attributes to move from being a region of Iraq to the Republic of Kurdistan. Therefore, it is vital that the security sector is strong enough to adequately defend Kurdistan’s borders, and offer security provision for foreign firms operating in the region.
As Harry Schute notes, the PSI is
“An invaluable tool for the development of the region. Western companies and NGOs are vital for redevelopment, but the fact of the matter is that many of them will not operate here without private security. Their insurance won’t allow it; their board of legal advisors will not allow it. So if we want to have those guys here participating in the development of the Kurdistan Region, private security is going to be an extremely useful tool.”
As it stands, there are no domestic laws that cover the activities of the PSI in either Iraq or Kurdistan. This is a concern, as the private security industry is the fourth largest industry in the region, behind the government, the oil and construction industry. According to the KRG Ministry of Interior (MOI), there are 50 licensed PMSCs operating in Kurdistan, employing just over 6000 contractors, a number that is likely to increase.
However, at the time of writing there is still no political mandate to deal with the effective regulation of this ever-growing industry. The private security industry in Kurdistan generates over $1 billion annually, and although the MOI has issued guidelines concerning the activity of the PSI, there is no law in place governing their activities.
Currently, 60% of gov- ernment spending goes to public sector employees, and the domestic security sector is struggling to effectively deal with the huge demands placed on it by the current conflict against IS in the Kurdistan Region. However, recent developments in Russia could prove beneficial for the KRG.
As it is being proposed that state contracts are granted to the PSI, whilst at the same time giving control over contractors to the Defence Ministry. The PSI would then be used for immediate response to various threats, and could become a hidden reserve for the regular military forces, joining them automatically in periods of conflict. This draft bill is currently being examined in Russia, and could prove quite feasible, as firms operating under the control of a national security service or government arguably ensures accountability and control of the sector.
This method of control could prove successful in the Kurdistan Region. The domestic private security industry could fall under the Ministry of Peshmerga or Ministry of Interior so that the contractors could be used as reservists when Kurdistan is under external threat. One of the major benefits is the fact that contractors are not public sector employees, but part of the private sector, reducing the burden on the state when it comes to security provision. The Ministry of Peshmerga or Ministry of Interior would be able to utilise a fully trained, combat ready force, when necessary, and would have control over their actions, adding a level of accountability that is currently lacking.