Email from Iraq

A Security Guard

I thought that I would let you all know how things are going, what occurs and all that stuff. After flying into Jordan I was driven to a hotel (5 star, room 227 is missing the contents of the drinks cabinet, mini bar, TV remote and all the towels, old habits die hard). ‘You will be here for two days,’ my friendly new Jordanian driver said. Given that it was now 0430 in the a.m., I thought: ‘Bed, late brekkie by the pool and generally milk it for all it’s worth.’ At 0730 room service rang to tell me that my flight was at 1000 hours. For those of you with no grasp of the Arabic spoken in Jordan, imshi will cover all eventualities that require strong language.

My new friendly friend arrived, and we drove like they do on Police, Camera, Action! There are no speed limits in Jordan, and it is compulsory to do three things. 1: use your horn frequently, in fact wiring it up so that it works constantly is recommended. 2: pretend no one else is on the road, that way the traffic will not get in your way, and your passenger will not shout imshi a lot. 3: try and sell your passenger a fake Rolex whilst doing 190 kph on a road designed for two cars that is actually being used by seven abreast. Follow these simple guidelines and you will be just fine.

On arrival at Amman airport I was told that I would have to pay a ‘special western tax’ to leave the country. For only 100 US dollars I could go. I informed the nice man that I had seen Midnight Run and was not scared. He looked at my passport and said the magic words: ‘You no fly.’ I replied: ‘Actually mate I was hoping the pilot would see to that, I planned to sit there and just enjoy the view.’ Sarcasm has yet to reach Jordan, when it does I foresee it being very popular. Finally I was allowed to leave the Hashemite Kingdom free of charge. It cost me $10 though.

As I emplaned something struck me, not a brick thrown by the airport official, but the plane. It was older than me, and looked like the Wright Bros had decided to scrap it as it was too out of date for them. I sat in my seat and to my dismay I discovered that I was sat next to the sky marshal. I knew this as he was the only passenger openly carrying a shotgun. I decided to embark on a professional conversation that went like this. Me: ‘You’re a sky marshal.’ Sky Marshal: ‘No I’m not.’ Me: ‘If you fire that shotgun in here we won’t have to worry about hijackers, you’ll make martyrs of us all.’ Sky Marshal: ‘Sir, this is a present.’ Me: ‘Oh yeah? who for?’ Sky Marshal: ‘My wife.’ Me: ‘Rough Marriage?’ Sky Marshal: ‘Sorry?’ Me: ‘I was just wondering about the body armour.’ We decided to be quiet for the remainder of the flight.

Oh what a flight. The plane made a ‘tactical landing’ in Baghdad. In laymanisms, you’re at 25,000 feet and the ground is at 0 feet, land the plane as fast as you can trying to keep the wheels on. This was achieved by flying in very tight spirals. My ears popped three times, and the non sky marshal was sick. ‘That happens every time,’ said our frequent flier.

On my grand entrance at Baghdad International Airport (1520 hours local) I noticed that everyone was being refused entry to the country. When my turn came they said: ‘What do you want.’ Knowing that sarcasm is very big in Baghdad (must be, the Yanks have a camp here called Camp Victory, known to us as Camp 50/50), I replied: ‘Birmingham to win the FA Cup and a room with a view please.’ At 2000 hours I was finally allowed in. The security firm I was working for gave me body armour and an assortment of weapons, and I climbed into a five-tonne armoured Ford Excursion. We proceeded at 200 kph using driving techniques that I had been taught but never used, thanks to the silly old Road Traffic Act. On my arrival I noticed that the entire street, roughly as long as the High Street, had Iraqi guards on it. These guys, for 150 quid a week, keep the security firm’s HQ safe. Are they reliable, you ask. The week before I arrived, insurgents attempted to take the street. All nine were killed by either the Iraqis or the ex-Soviet special forces guys who provide night-time security (before I left I sat with them one night and they professionally dispatched several bad people who were about to conduct acts of anti social behaviour. Sod ASBOs, use Dragonov and AK47s).

I then spent a two-week period training on all manner of weapons and various skills including driving, hand-to-hand combat (no eye gouges or death clamps, hence we spent all our time trying to eye gouge and death clamp each other) and skirmishing. We spent a large amount of time on the ranges shooting and generally worked very hard.

Once a week, HQ have a BBQ. The directors all take time to attend, mingle with the troops and generally play genial host. Picture the scene, we are stood around BBQing, drinking beer in shorts and T-shirts with all manner of weaponry hanging off us, when the locals decide that they will storm the camp for hostages. I saw grown men shooting back with a pistol in one hand, and a beer in another.

Finally after two weeks of intense instruction from ex-special forces soldiers we were deemed ready to deploy. We were given a call sign and off we went. We drove our principal to his required location, we blocked traffic, we overtook, we undertook, we carried bridge drills at 170 kph. Try it at home, it’s loads of fun. Head towards a bridge in the outside lane or inside lane, any lane in fact. When you get under the bridge yank the wheel as hard as you can so that you come out either in the first, second or third lane, this will prevent anyone killing you with a rocket-propelled grenade, as they expect you to come out in the same lane you entered in. Trust me, it works. We had an RPG fired at us, we did the drills and it missed, we then turned around and gave the terrorist the fingers (I foresee that too becoming very popular). I now hold the honorary rank of major . . . good eh? Always knew I would go far.

On our fourth or fifth run, disaster struck. We were ambushed by a stolen articulated lorry, it drove into the principal’s car, then an RPG was fired at the now static car. We debussed and attacked the ambush. The fire fight lasted 10-15 minutes and at the end of it nine Muslims hailing from Chechnya were dead. Sadly four of our guys died as well. Luckily we had no principal as we had dropped him off at a US camp for the night and we were heading home. Intelligence later confirmed that the terrorists had previously killed four guys from a US firm specialising in hiring ex-Navy Seals (Seal stands for Sea Air Land, they are US special forces, like the SBS but crapper). That incident put a bit of a downer on things, but that is the nature of the beast we work against.

We were then moved to Basra where it all went a bit odd as well, one-man rooms, cleaner in daily, washing done daily (leave it outside your room before 0700 and it is returned by 1700, being idle I leave it out the night before), internet access in each room free of charge (why have I no laptop?) and all the food you can eat. There’s a gym in the camp . . . so I’m told. On our second day we were mortared. If you have never been mortared then that’s a good thing, as there is nothing you can do but hide under something that looks like it could take an 82-millimetre explosive charge thrown at it. We were in the TV room (72-inch TV, all the Arabian channels you can stare at, Coronation Street dubbed into Arabic – class!), so being the experienced guys we are we sat and waited till it was over.

On leaving the TV room I saw why the Yanks will never win a war. They were running all over the place in what can only be described as a mass panic. Yes I know that people were trying to kill us, but you joined the army not the RSPCA, what did you expect – a calling card? ‘The Islamic People’s Front will be popping round on Wednesday, a bit of mayhem and murder between 0800-2000 hours, thank you.’ Not answering the door won’t work with this lot. In the event of the camp being attacked, our job is to carry out clearance patrols and ensure that those that get in leave feet first. First, though, we had to get our colonial cousins into the bunkers . . . That took four or five sharp words and they did as they were bid. The camp here is guarded by freelance Gurkhas, excellent soldiers as they have no initiative. Me: ‘Gurkha X, we are going to kill all the terrorists that try and get into the camp.’ Gurkha X: ‘OK.’ Try that on a free-thinking 22-year-old from London, you’ll hear more than imshi . . . We cleared the mess up and carried on with life as normal.

Today I did something that I was not happy with at the time, and events conspired to see that my actions saved lives, but that this country is up the left. Our principal had to go to Um Qasr, a port near Kuwait. Whilst he was on site, a small boy, about nine years old, approached the vehicle I was in, static outside the venue. He was riding a bike with a cooler box on the back. He approached the vehicle and asked me to open the window so he could sell me an ice-cream. I was not in an armoured vehicle, my job is the commander of the gunship, a non-armoured 4x4 that fights (it has three shooters plus a driver in it, all with machine-guns, shotguns, and all sorts of stuff), as armoured cars stop bullets from both leaving and entering . . . Anyway, he became desperate to get me to open the window. I waved him off, he refused to move, I told him imshi, he refused to move, so in desperation I drew my pistol and pointed it at him. I felt physically sick in doing it, how would you feel if a total stranger had done that to your child? On seeing the pistol the kid ran like a scared rabbit. He jumped on his bike and before he got 25 yards he was stopped by a British army patrol. As soon as they saw him they grabbed him off the bike and put him in the back of a Land-Rover. The patrol commander approached, having seen what had occurred with me, and asked if we were OK. He then showed me the two hand grenades the kid had in the cooler box. You open the window to be polite and cordial, and he ends your life for you. Nine years old, I’m not asking why, I’m just glad we are OK.

So that is that for now, hope that this helps explain why I’m here, there is a world of difference between living and being alive, and this is after all history.

This is the text of an email sent by a private security guard to his former colleagues in the UK. For obvious reasons he doesn’t want to be identified.