Mercenary firms fear bloodbath in Iraq

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MERCENARY chiefs are urgently reviewing rules dictating when they can use force in Iraq, amid growing fears that another confrontation between private security operators and police could explode into a bloodbath.

Days after four British bodyguards and their client were snatched by bogus police from the streets of Baghdad, the bosses of private security firms have admitted there is now a "serious risk" of shoot-outs between "mercenary" officials and Iraqi security forces.

Private security companies (PSCs) protecting vital personnel and installations across Iraq claim the kidnapping has exposed the vulnerability of their staff, who are banned from bearing arms when confronted by Iraqi police and military.

Now a confidential memo to the heads of almost 200 private security companies providing bodyguard services in Iraq has laid bare the tensions between local security forces and the growing army of 'hired guns' protecting foreigners involved in reconstruction.

In the document obtained by Scotland on Sunday, Lawrence Peter, director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, appeals for help in producing a new "Standard Operating Procedure" to offer private guards better protection on the streets of Iraq.

He warned the current tensions could lead to violent clashes which could end up with bodyguards dead - or on trial for murder.

"I am concerned that there is now a serious risk of a PSC detail opening fire on a police detail, should the situation not 'feel right'," said Peter.