Government spends £110m on private security firms in Iraq

THE government was accused of neglecting frontline soldiers in favour of private firms last night after it was revealed more than £110 million has been spent on private security companies in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

As a hard-hitting report revealed under-funding of the armed services across the board, Kim Howells, the international security minister, revealed the amount the government had spent on private security firms.

He said: "The total contractual costs of private security companies contracted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and operating in Iraq, between April 2003 and December 2005 was 110,342,718."

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He was responding to a Commons written question from a Tory MP, Rob Wilson.

Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative's defence spokesman, was outraged that the government is spending money on private firms at a time then the army is struggling to meet demands in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said the money would be better spent investing in frontline services.

"At a time when the government is expecting to deliver 2 billion of efficiency savings to the Treasury, it seems a very odd way to go about it - spending money on security services rather than our frontline troops," he said.

"I just think it is difficult to see where this government's priorities lie. We are seeing 300 million in cuts from the navy, and a lot of voters will be asking whether the government really have the interests of our defence services at heart."

Mr Fox also said the decision raised questions involving accountability as well as economics of defence. "People will ask questions about the priorities and the competence of the ministry of defence," he added.

In a separate reply to the MP, Mr Howells said that work on the British Embassy and Consulate General facilities in Baghdad and Basra, which began under the coalition provisional authority, was nearing completion at an estimated cost of 55 million.