In 2007, mercenaries working for Blackwater opened fire at a busy crossroads in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 17 and seriously injuring many more. Some of the bodies of the Iraqi victims were so disfigured that they had to be identified by dental records.
Following the increase in mercenaries engaged in combat Iraq, private armies have been awarded an alarming amount of UK government contracts in Afghanistan. Recent figures revealed that private armies have secured contracts for Afghanistan worth more than £42 million from the British government for a two-year period from of the start of 2008 to the end of December 2009, more than twice the figure for Iraq in the same period. As the US and UK plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are now serious concerns about the use of private armies and the potential for further human rights abuses.
In the United States strident steps have been taken to hold mercenaries to account. In January 2010 congresswoman Jan Schakowsky proposed legislation to ban the US government from offering contracts to private armies. Yet the UK government — which has spent over £148 million of taxpayers' money on private army contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan — has rejected formal regulation in favour of a voluntary code of conduct where mercenary companies will be left to police themselves. This voluntary code is currently being drawn up by the government without any parliamentary oversight. War on Want is campaigning against voluntary codes of conduct. Only robust government legislation can regulate private armies. Innocent civilians living in conflict zones already face grave danger on a daily basis. Men roaming the streets with guns who are not held accountable aggravate this vulnerability. As the Blackwater shootings have proven, self-regulation of this deadly industry is not an option.