Chilean paramilitaries protecting Aussie embassy in Baghdad

What better way to show affection for an occupied nation? Hire thugs to protect a space that only exists due to the Australian government’s desperate desire to join the Bush administration into the country in 2003:

The Defence Department plans to fully privatise security at Australia’s Baghdad embassy by the end of the year, after quietly outsourcing most of the guard duties to Chilean paramilitary and army veterans, the ABC can reveal.

Senior army sources say 60 Chilean contractors work 12-hour shifts at the embassy – almost twice as long as the Australian Defence Force (ADF) allows its personnel to be on duty for in summer months.

The men are paid $2,200 a month, the equivalent of Australia’s minimum wage, to guard the front gate and man machine gun nests, security cameras and alarm systems.

The Chilean contractors are overseen by a former Australian serviceman and employed by Australian private contractor Unity Resources Group (URG).

URG, which won the $9 million government contract already in place and would be expected to secure any future contracts, was founded by former Special Air Service (SAS) commander Gordon Conroy and several other Australian veterans.

The Government is supposed to publish all government contracts on a public tender registry but the embassy deal has never been declared.

A statement from the Department of Finance explained that contracts can only be suppressed by the chief executive of a department if they believe “that the information is genuinely sensitive and harm is likely to be caused by its disclosure”.

A senior Army officer who spoke to the ABC says Australian soldiers still conduct just one security duty at the embassy: the personal security detail of the Head of Mission, Bob Tyson, and of visiting dignitaries if they leave the compound and travel through Baghdad.

It is this final function that the department plans to privatise by the end of the year.

But the moves have met resistance from within the embassy.

The ABC understands Mr Tyson has requested the Personal Security Detail stay in the hands of the ADF.

The presence of Chileans at the embassy has not been without incident.

On March 22, one of the men on perimeter duty was Esteban Lara Pina, a 35-year-old father of one. He had worked in Iraq for a number of employers since 2005 but his income had steadily declined as more and more willing men arrived in Baghdad.

Over time he developed what he called “psychological problems”. That day, standing in full view of the street, he took his weapon, pointed it at his own chest and fired.

Afterwards, the former Chilean army sergeant was airlifted to Amman, Jordan.

There he underwent six operations to save his life and eventually flew back to Santiago, Chile to recover with his family.

Since being put on a plane home from Jordan he has been unable to contact anyone from URG, from which he is trying to recover ongoing medical costs.

“They’ve never contacted me, not even to see how I am, and certainly not offered to help me in any way and I can’t get hold of them,” he said.

“I’ve been ill, I’ve had psychological problems from which I’m still recovering.”

In Chile, it is illegal to recruit men for private military work.