Private Security Contracting in Iraq: A Framework for Regulation


The presence of private security contractors in major conflicts is longstanding. Normally termed as mercenaries, they have played an active role in various wars from the middle Ages to the First World War and contemporarily in various battlefields (Petersohn 2013). Their involvement is often necessitated by a number of factors. First, countries like the US desire to exercise their authority and power globally but cannot do so while relying on their own military power (McFate 2017). It would be costly and politically problematic to involve the military in conflicts all over the globe. The government has to thus enlist contractors in areas where their armies are inadequate, or large numbers of troops are generally required. Elsewhere, the government often needs possible deniability in carrying out some operations like assassinations which may be against their own laws or international laws (Petersohn 2013). To carry out such operations, private contractors come in handy. More often, their involvement is necessitated by a security vacuum. These occur when troops are evacuated from conflict zones but still leaves behind a need for order and other military work. Private contractors are thus brought in to take over. This has been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.

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Despite the critical role played by private military contractors, their work comes with a flurry of challenges. To begin with, the industry is shrouded with opacity and unaccountability. They do not answer to anyone and are not formally regulated- which explains their attractiveness to political players when carrying out possibly illegal missions (McFate 2017). In the opacity come many things among them human rights abuses, lack of discipline among personnel, failure to rehabilitate/take care of wounded soldiers and those suffering from health problems emanating from the battlefield and so forth. The companies operate in a near perfect air of impunity. Another problem with private security is the conflict of interest that comes with making profits out of conflict. The contractors have no real interest in ending the conflicts unless they have a new contract elsewhere and in some instances have been seen to actually fuel war (Petersohn 2013). There is an urgent need for a regulatory framework, including self regulation, to help bring sanity and accountability in the world of private security contracting.

Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the region has become a ripe market for private security contracting. Major international players have flocked the war zone seeking to profit from the war and the recent withdrawal of US troops from the region (Kruck 2014). Apart from facing the prima facie issues that come from private security contracting, the region has surfaced some unique problems that necessitate regulation. Iraq offers a comprehensive and rare case study of the highs and lows of private military contracting. Notably, sometimes in 2007, there was a shootout between one of the premier market players, Blackwater, now Xe that led to the death of 17 civilians (McFate 2017). This marked a new era of regulatory tension for private security contractors. They were stripped of immunity and instead became a target for Iraqi police and the interior ministry at large. Harassment, withdrawal of licenses, arbitrary searches and other overboard measures were assumed (Kruck 2014). It became difficult to operate in the environment, with the administration keen to show who was in charge of the country. With the region still a boom market for private security contracting, the need for regulation has never been more urgent.

The proposed paper shall therefore build on the traditional challenges of private security contracting, narrow on the unique scenarios presented in Iraq and propose a framework for regulation in the industry. The paper draws its value from resolving the longstanding problem of lack of transparency, accountability, human resource codes and professional conduct in the affairs of private security contractors.

Research Question

The research question for the study shall be: What is the appropriate regulatory framework for private security contractors in Iraq?

Research Methods

The proposed research shall be theoretical rather than practical. It aims at identifying all the regulatory variables relevant to the private security contracting business in Iraq and coming up with an appropriate regulatory framework to govern both internal and external operations. Internally, factors to be considered included professional code, remuneration and general human resource management and working environment. On the outside, factors to be considered include relationship with Iraqi police and government agencies as well as adherence to international and local laws. A theoretical research is appropriate in this scenario because of the nature of the problem. A regulatory framework is a theoretical issue that demands a corresponding theoretical approach. Such theory shall then form the basis of future security contracting practice in Iraq. In addition, the nature of private military contracting does not offer a good environment for practical research. The companies involved in the business operate in war zones where it would be unsafe if not impractical to visit and collect data. In addition, the soldiers involved in the work have complex psychosocial issues that made it either unsafe or sophisticated to work with them. A practical research in this case would require huge technical and logistical resources that may not be in the reach of the proposed research.

Research Design

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). This is a suitable method of understanding private security contracting as it shall identity the issues faced in the domain as they are and hence craft a regulatory framework for addressing them. More importantly, the design does not work with a specified set of variables instead taking a holistic look at issues. This shall be integral in gathering all the variables involved in private security contracting and subsequently devising a holistic regulatory framework. It must also be acknowledged that qualitative research design has been passed as more appropriate in dealing with social phenomena and hence is highly merited for use in this scenario (Cresswell et al 2007). This is besides the fact that a literature review is a recognized, salient and effective method of carrying out social science research.


The research shall be carried out in the form of a literature review on the research question, featuring credible sources of information. 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.

The choice of a literature review method is informed by several factors. To begin with, the methodology augments well with a qualitative research design and hence leads to the formation of themes, concepts and ideas to be factored in the formation of the regulatory framework. A review provides a wide range of qualitative data that can adequately address the research question (Flick 2015). Additionally, the secrecy around private military contracting does not allow for other methods of research such as interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies and phenomenology. It would be difficult to get research participants as most contractors and their employees are sworn to secrecy and have non-disclosure clauses in their contracts. It would even be in their best interest not to take part in any research activities given the obvious ethical and legal contraventions involved in their line of work. It must also be noted that military work is often of highly sensitive nature and as such it would be imprudent for any stakeholder to willingly take part in activities that expose them. Therefore, other forms of research will be highly problematic in operationalizing and hence the most fitting alternative is a literature review. To its credit, the approach shall benefit from a number of news reports, published research, policy papers and even books that exist on the topic. These have been made available by former contractors who publish post-service and others who are interviewed by media on the condition of anonymity. There are thus adequate materials to suffice a good literature review on the proposed research topic.  

Sample Size

The number of articles reviewed in the research shall be determined by a number of factors. First, literature on private military contracting is predictably scarce, given the complexity and secrecy among the stakeholders. There are no enough books, journals and news articles on the topic as would be in other disciplines. A large number of existing literature is general and does not focus on the specific situation of Iraq. This shall be a major determining factor in the sample size as the research may not get as many articles as needed for its pertinent research issues. Luckily, a large sample size is often not necessary in qualitative research. This is normally because it often reaches a point of saturation where any additional materials/participants do not bring on board new information. 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.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

The inclusion criteria shall be publishing of the research within a period of 10 years. This ensures that the research featured in the study is current and addresses the latest problems in private security contracting. Though literature since 2003 (when America invaded Iraq) may be relevant, it is more prudent to include published works within a 10 year period for timeliness. In addition, the involvement of private security companies in Iraq became pervasive recently with the withdrawal of US troops. As such, the latest news reports and research is best placed to give a realistic picture of the issues affecting them.  The papers to be excluded from the research include those that are too general and fail to capture the specific issues of private military contracting in Iraq and those that present archaic research. Others excluded are those from non-credible sources such as blogs whose authorship has no established authority. The above criteria will ensure that the research is of high quality and in essence, the information presented is both valid and reliable (Cresswel et al 2007).


Various ethical guidelines shall be adhered to in the research. To begin with, the proposal shall be submitted for approval by the ethics committee. This shall ensure that none of the contents or intentions of the research bring any of the stakeholders into disrepute (Flick, 2015). In addition, 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. Any other ethical guideline as recommended by the ethics committee or any other authoritative body shall also be given due consideration.


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.

 4/1/2018  5/1/2018 – 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      

 From the above timelines, it can be noted that the data analysis section has been omitted. This has been done deliberately as a qualitative research in the form of a literature review does not require any analysis. A discussion of the themes that emerge from the literature is sufficient and shall be done in the process of writing up the project. The project timeline is also quite slim given that it takes only a month but this is reasonable given that it is a theoretical paper that does not require fieldwork or collection of primary data.


The proposed research shall focus on private military contracting in Iraq. Following the invasion of the US in the Middle East country, private security firms have taken part in both the war and the restoration of order after the security vacuum left behind by the withdrawal of troops. They continue to play a critical role in military operations but premise several challenges including opacity and lack of accountability. More essentially, they have found themselves at loggerheads with Iraq police and interior ministry officials, necessitating a proper regulatory framework to govern their activities going forward. The research shall be theoretical and qualitative, involving a literature review into the stated research question. These methods are accepted and augment well with the nature of private military contracting, given that the business has various hindrances to practical research. The sample size shall factor in at least 20 credible sources in accordance to the protocols of qualitative research methodology. In the end, the proposed research shall be useful in coming up with a holistic regulatory framework for private military contracting. Some of the issues that shall be resolve in the process include recalcitrant human resource, professional and international law adherence questions.


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.

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

Petersohn, U., 2013. The effectiveness of contracted coalitions: Private security contractors in Iraq. Armed Forces & Society39(3), pp.467-488.

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.

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