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Book defends use of mercenaries

August 6, 2008 12:38:23 PM PDT
It's a chatty British page-turner that describes a lot of "slotting along a dual carriageway."

Do you need an interpreter?

John Geddes' actual style is a lot more reader-friendly than that, though he seems to think any American ought to understand that "slotting" is British military slang for killing. "Dual carriageway" just means any two-way road or street. That could be an understated British way to describe the desolate 330-mile stretch between Baghdad and Iraq's border with Jordan. Geddes calls it the "Highway to Hell."

His writing involves copious use of what most American publications call expletives - an uncensored version of the speech habits in American as well as British armed forces. Geddes spells out all the words.

A veteran of an elite British military unit, he proudly calls himself a "private military contractor" or PMC. At 53, he's an executive in London of Ronin Concepts Ltd., licensed by a Security Industry Authority under British law. He says there are 100,000 PMCs in Iraq, many of them hired by the U.S. and British governments to protect VIPs instead of using regular military for the job. They are sometimes paid 10 times as much as American soldiers would be.

Another British security firm, with the more thought-provoking name Executive Outcomes, is involved in a long trial over an alleged plot against a West African government. That's the one with which Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former British prime minister, was associated. Blackwater is the best known American contractor.

Much of the killing recounted in the book is done with AK-47s, the Russian Kalashnikov rifle favored by insurgents around the world, and by Geddes, too. He describes it as high-powered enough not only to kill a man, but to blow a hole in him big enough to reveal the comrade behind him.

Geddes' story begins with a quick shootout on the road. As he tells the story, the shootout was between him as bodyguard for a British TV crew in an SUV, and four armed Iraqis in a black BMW who wanted to kidnap them. A man in the BMW's front seat fired a burst across the SUV's hood. Hiding the AK-47 on his lap as the BMW closed in, Geddes fired through the doors of the two cars when they were only about 3 feet apart.

"I watched the driver's head explode as the height difference of the two vehicles laid it on the line," he writes. "The gunman next to him screamed, openmouthed in horror, all hatred and disdain wiped clear from his eyes by disbelief, as the assault rounds sliced into him, too, and tracked through his body."

Geddes ordered his own driver to speed off. Many other clashes follow. So do tales of heroism.

There's also a chapter with the slightly misleading title of "Baghdad Babes." They turn out to be a few large, attractive, European female PMCs - no Americans. Like their male counterparts, they are strictly interested in their dangerous and remunerative duties, not sex.

Romance rears its head in brief allusions to a female news correspondent, other foreign visitors and Iraqi women. In one sentimental episode - leap year day Feb. 29 - Geddes gets a satellite call from his "long-term girl friend Emma." Apparently she's in Britain, he's in Baghdad and he accepts her leap year proposal of marriage. He just happens to be down on one knee, not in a lover's humility but crouched behind a vehicle to cut the noise from a nearby fire fight.

The book enthusiastically defends the mercenary trade as useful and ethical, comparing it favorably with the standards of U.N. peacekeepers. The author even describes an imaginary U.S. invasion of a Middle East country in 2015, with improved equipment.

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