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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Armies for Hire
First broadcast May 2007

Soldier with gun

Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a staggering boom in the demand for civilian soldiers who carry arms for private companies.

In this two-part BBC World Service series, presenter Peter Snow moves with the men and women operating in conflict zones, shedding light into this notoriously secretive world, while also hearing how military experts now believe that these "legitimate" mercenaries are already an essential ingredient in world security in the 21st century.

We discover who they are, why they are needed, what they do, and who - if anyone - they are accountable to.

Part One: The Dogs of Peace

In Iraq alone there are over 150 Private Military Companies or Private Security Contractors, like Aegis and Blackwater, which are contracted by the US Department of Defense and the UK Ministry of Defense to provide security, carry out peace-keeping duties, and to train the Iraqi army and police.

Nearly 50,000 mercenaries of different nationalities currently operate in Iraq, many of them ex-Special Forces personnel. In terms of numbers, they are second only to the American army.

The income for the whole industry has reached an estimated $20-30 billion.

Many such Western companies are pressing for the industry to be tightly regulated and meet a set of international standards.

But the brutality associated with guns-for-hire throughout history has not disappeared, with Iraqi politicians and Human Rights groups protesting that some civilian contractors have sometimes, quite literally, got away with murder.

Series Producers: Kate Bland and Pat Gilbert (Just Radio).

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