Private Security Contracting in Iraq: A Framework for Regulation


The presence of private security contractors (PSCs) in major conflicts is longstanding. Their involvement is often necessitated by a number of factors including security vacuums, limitation of military capacity, political reasons and cost efficiency (McFate 2017). Despite the critical role played by private military contractors, their work comes with a flurry of challenges including opacity and unaccountability, impunity, conflict of interest and disputes with law enforcement agencies in host nations (Kruck 2014). According to McFate (2017), the US heavily relied on PSCs in their Iraq operation where they formed half of the troops. The proposed research shall therefore propose a regulatory framework for private security contractors in Iraq to overcome traditional and emerging challenges. 

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The proposed research is important in resolving the controversies associated with private security contracting. Policy makers and political leaders have for long complained about the opacity and lack of transparency associated with PSCs (Petersohn 2013). Private security contractors have also been accused of breaking local and international laws by engaging in acts of torture and assassinations (Carmola 2010). A regulatory framework shall guarantee legal compliance. The proposed research shall also be of great utility to private security contractors. The lack of clear and structured regulation has oftentimes exposed PSCs to political and other forms of victimization. The research paper shall therefore be of equal importance to political and policy decision makers as well as the PSCs. Research on PSCs is also scarce, thus the paper shall form an important foundation for further research in the thematic area. 

The research questions shall be addressed through a qualitative approach. The dissertation shall begin with a short introduction, followed by literature review, methodology,  results and discussion and finally, the conclusion. 

Literature Review

Background of Private Security Contracting

The use of Private Security Contractors (PSCs) in war, stabilization efforts and humanitarian contexts has been in place for long, only that there have been a few elements of metamorphosis in terms of deployment and internal structure. According to Petersohn (2013), private security contracting represents the modern version of what used to be termed as mercenaries, who played a crucial role in many wars dating as early as the Middle Ages. Unlike mercenaries of the past, private security firms are fully corporate bodies offering a wide range of security services ranging from technical assistance, warfare merchandize, strategic planning, tactical combat operations to logistical support (Cole and Vermeltfoort 2018). The latter also avers that the modern shape of private security firms emerged in the 90s following the end of the cold war and the emerging wave of neo-liberalism wherein governments began to outsource for key functions. The end of the US-Soviet duel signified substantial downsizing of official armies, but later widespread instability across the globe necessitated sustained military presence of superpowers like the US in various areas overseas (Petersohn 2013). Though public opinion has generally been against private security contracting, it is unlikely that the US will abandon the practice any soon. Every day, there emerges need for military services in magnitudes that the US cannot satisfy on their own hence the need for PSCs.

There are many other reasons why private military contracting continues to thrive even amidst growing controversy. Schwartz (2010) notes that there is a political dimension to deployment of troops, with the US government finding it difficult to sustain large armies and deploy everywhere their interests are without angering the public. The author observes that America’s military spending is already a subject of debate and controversy, and further inflation would not survive the court of public opinion. It would make more sense to have more money spent on healthcare, education and other core services rather than wars. In such circumstances, the government has to maintain their war interests with the help of private security contractors (deployed on a need basis) and hence avoid the political costs of war. Petersohn (2013) adds that governments like the US’ are known to engage in military activities that may seem at conflict with their own laws and International law. In such events, the government needs possible deniability, which is best achieved through deploying private armies. Other situations that have sustained the role of private armies is the emergence of security gaps following the withdrawal of troops in places like Afghanistan (Schwartz 2010). While official military duties may be over in such places, there remains a need for order and preserving the interests of different stakeholders. Private security contractors often therefore come in to fill such a vacuum. 

The Iraqi War

The Iraqi War (2003- 2011) encompassed a heavy deployment of private military and security contractors. McFate (2017) noted that such companies were engaged in various military duties from the outset, with the US and their allies bringing them onboard to complement conventional military resources. The withdrawal of US troops from the country in 2011 expanded the opportunities for private military and security contractors, with a newly emerged threat of the Islamic State (IS) and other insurgent groups that opposed US occupation and the post-invasion Iraq government (Knuck 2014). The latter argued that more private military agents perished in the war than US soldiers under President Obama.

 Nemeth (2017) noted that the use of PSCs in Iraq came with a flurry of issues. First, it remains unclear as to what roles they played/continue to play in the conflict. It is speculated that they offered logistical support and engaged in combat situations as well as re-training of Iraqi forces. None of these roles can be stated with certainty as their operations proceed in secrecy and the US military itself remains uninterested in shedding any light on the same. They enter into confidentiality agreements and draft vague contracts which make it difficult to follow up or report on contractual violations. The financial and administrative data on the operations of PSCs is also scarce and incomplete. Cole and Vermeltfoort (2018) observes that some scandals such as the Abu Ghraib torture incident contributed to negative press and global outcry over the violation of human rights by private security contractors. In the end, the need for regulation in private security contracting had never been more apparent. 

Regulation of Private Security Contractors

The regulation of private security contractors has been at the center of controversy for decades. The need for regulation is however well demonstrated. First, McFate (2017) reckons that private security contractors are faced by a perennial conflict of interest- making profits from war. How could they be trusted to aid in stabilization, end conflicts and avert war if such would keep them out of business? Private security contracting derives its demand from wars, and as such, without conflict their services would not be needed. This worries various stakeholders, more so the general public as to whether such firms really play abatement roles in war. It is logical to think that private security contractors have no genuine interest in ending wars unless they have another “business” destination. There is thus need for a regulator to keep an eye on their practices and ascertain that they help to end conflicts rather than fuel them. Knuck (2014) highlights many other problems. For instance, private security firms have been accused of unlawful activities in the past. Internally, the author notes that they have treated enlisted combatants inhumanely as they chase profits. Once a soldier is injured, there is no proper welfare or compensation with the firm replacing them immediately. Further, unlike formal armies, there is lack of discipline and professionalism in their troops, leading to human rights abuses. All these shortcomings demonstrate the desire for a regulatory framework. 

The greatest desire for regulation of private security contractors stems from the obfuscated terms of engagement with host nations, as observed by Isenberg (2009). PSCs operate under flexible frameworks and goodwill, creating tension in the process. Due to unclear terms of engagement, the author avers that the firms operate under the air of unaccountability, impunity and opacity. The host nations or even their own clients lack full knowledge of their operations, organization and there is absolutely no genuine scrutiny. This sometimes degenerates into friction between them and law enforcement, with the secretive nature of their operations blocking what would have otherwise been constructive synergies. There are thus well demonstrated reasons why a better regulatory framework is needed.

Objectives of the Proposed Research

The main objective of the research shall be to come up with an encompassing regulatory framework that will guide the activities of Private Security Contractors (PSCs) in Iraq. The specific objectives shall be:

  • To examine the existing regulatory framework for PSCs in Iraq
  • To propose an encompassing framework for governing the activities of PSCs in Iraq. 

Research Questions

The study shall be guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are the existing, if any, regulations for PSCs in Iraq?
  2. What encompassing framework can be put in place to regulate the activities of PSCs in Iraq?


Research Design

According to Cresswell et al (2007), research design refers to the overall strategy that is adopted in addressing the research questions. The design provides the general framework upon which data collection, sampling, and analysis is predicated. The research design appropriate for the above stated research question is qualitative. A qualitative research design aims at identifying themes, concepts and strategies that can be applied to specific phenomena. Unlike other forms of research, it does not require the manipulation of variables and instead aims at understanding issues in their natural occurrence (Cresswell et al 2007). It describes the phenomena under study without drawing any causal relationships instead focusing on the evident characteristics emerging from the data. Qualitative research design is appropriate for the proposed study due to the descriptive nature of the desired regulatory framework that is to be the end product. In the end, the goal is to construct a model that can be used for regulation, rather than demonstrate any relationships that would have called for a different design. 

Data Collection 

Qualitative data shall be collected from existing sources of scholarly literature.  A search shall be conducted on credible databases such as Google Scholar and Proquest retrieving journal articles and books on the topic. Key words for the search process shall include private security, security contractors, private security in Iraq, wars, conflicts and regulation of private security contractors among others. Boolean operators like “and’ shall be used to narrow down the search to ensure that it covers the relevant items. Other sources to be used in the paper include news reports from credible media outlets and international and government organizations. These will provide up to date information on the subject matter. Relying on literature for data is necessary due to the nature of the subjects of the research. There is a geographical and logistical barrier in reaching the PSCs in Iraq and even if it were possible to reach them, obtaining information from them is a risky and problematic process. Therefore, obtaining information from published research is the best way to go about it. 

Sample Size

The sample shall feature credible articles on the topic. Cresswell et al (2007) offers guidelines that 20-30 participants are appropriate for qualitative research, and as such, at least 20 credible sources shall be employed in the research. Geographically, the sample shall be limited to Iraq, examining the activities of PSCs in the region. The geographical sample is limited to Iraq due to the heavy reliance on PSCs in the US mission therein, providing the best sample upon which adequate data can be collected on the subject matter.  

Data Analysis

The data collected shall be analyzed using thematic analysis. The latter is commonly used in qualitative research to describe phenomena by looking for common themes and patterns. The patterns and themes are what shall be pieced together in coming with a regulatory framework. The data shall be examined to isolate the main points that shall be grouped under several themes. Further analysis of the themes shall be done to come up with the desired regulatory framework. 


Various ethical guidelines shall be adhered to in the research. To begin with, caution shall be taken to adhere to any confidentiality guidelines with respect to persons mentioned or institutions that have been quoted in the condition of anonymity (Flick, 2015). This is important given the sensitivity of security operations. Further, any information that may be too sensitive to ongoing operations shall be avoided in the study. 


There are several limitations in the study design including the focus on one geographical area (Iraq). This means that the results of the study may not be generalizable to PSCs in other jurisdictions. The reliance on published research may also come across as a limitation. This is because any biases and inaccuracies in the published data shall be inherited in the study. This limitation shall be overcome by relying on a variety of sources and carefully checking for reliability of sources prior to inclusion in the evidence pool.


The research shall be conducted in line with the following timelines. Slight adjustments may be made to take care of any unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

4/1/20185/1/2018 -7/1/201810/1/2018- 15/1/201817/1/2018- 20/1/ 201822/1/2018 – 26/1/20181/2/2018
Start of the Project
Literature search and Review

Writing of the Project
Revision and Editing of the research project
Peer Review
Delivery of the Project


The proposed research shall focus on private military contracting in Iraq. Specifically, the study is concerned with the development of an encompassing regulatory framework for Private Security Contractors (PSCs). The need for regulation is well established due to opacity and unaccountability of PSCs in Iraq, the need to have clear terms of engagement with host nations and avoiding conflict of interests. The value of the research is evident to PSCs and political and policy decision makers who desire to audit private security contracting. The study shall be qualitative in approach, relying on published research. Data shall be collected from credible sources and analyzed thematically. The sample size shall be 20-30 credible sources. The research shall be further conducted in a way that abides to all relevant ethical facets. 


Carmola, K., 2010. Private Security Contractors and New Wars: Risk, Law, and Ethics. Routledge.

Chesterman, S. and Lehnardt, C. eds., 2007. From mercenaries to market: The rise and regulation of private military companies. Oxford University Press.

Cole, C. and Vermeltfoort, R., 2018. The Private Military Industry. In US Government Contractors and Human Trafficking (pp. 9-16). Springer, Cham.

Creswell, J.W., Hanson, W.E., Clark Plano, V.L. and Morales, A., 2007. Qualitative research designs: Selection and implementation. The counseling psychologist35(2), pp.236-264.

Flick, U., 2015. Introducing research methodology: A beginner’s guide to doing a research project. Sage.

Isenberg, D., 2009. Shadow force: Private security contractors in Iraq. ABC-CLIO.

Kruck, A., 2014. Theorising the use of private military and security companies: a synthetic perspective. Journal of International Relations and Development17(1), pp.112-141.

McFate, S. 2017. The modern mercenary: Private armies and what they mean for world order. Oxford University Press.

Nemeth, C.P., 2017. Private security and the law. CRC Press.

Petersohn, U., 2013. The effectiveness of contracted coalitions: Private security contractors in Iraq. Armed Forces & Society39(3), pp.467-488.Schwartz, M., 2010. Department of Defense contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and analysis. Diane Publishing.

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