|From Serbia, too|
The man hiding behind the name of ‘Gabrijel’, and whose true identity is known to the paper, says he is doing what he does best, what he has dedicated his life to, and adds there is no other job he would take on. Gabrijel is a special forces operator, originally from Sarajevo, for the past four years working in Iraq for the world’s leading companies providing security. A year ago he and another ex-Serb secret services member decided to open a training camp in Obrenovac, for the personnel bent on continuing their military careers in one of the crisis-stricken regions. Due to his duties in Iraq, he has not been in daily contact with the training camp for the past three months, but says he often meets the trainees in Baghdad and Mossul.
Gabrijel says his motive is always one and the same: the thrill. ‘Sometimes I get sick of the job I do, sometimes I’m forced to work in places I wouldn’t choose to work in and with the people I would rather not be around. I can’t say that the word ‘pleasure’ is what describes it best, but it is closest to what I feel during an operation. Of course, the money is excellent, too. However, I have managed to earn more or less the same amount in my own country’, he says. The earnings range from $ 4 000 per month, for convoy escort, to $ 30 000 per month, for body-guarding officials. Gabrijel says he first arrived in Iraq in 2003, within the scope of the job he did in the Balkans. ‘The plane landed on an improvised runway, it was pitch-dark, and Saddam’s regular army troops were still fighting the Coalition forces. The second time I came to Iraq was in 2004, working for a British company with a Sarajevo field office. We entered Iraq virtually illegally, via the Turkish-Iraqi border. There were comic reliefs during these trips, but also moments when we were on the verge of bloodshed. We were both lucky and clever. We didn’t suffer a single loss in six months, neither from among the personnel we were guarding, nor the field operatives. I would say that even with the thorough preparations and planning to the last detail, credit to dear God that we are alive’, Gabrijel says.
While he worked for a foreign company performing the so-called deep reconnaissance in the Sunni triangle, Gabrijel received an offer to join one of the world’s leading companies. ‘Two days later, I was in Baghdad. The process was relatively simple. I received a business letter via the internet that is used as a basis for getting a one-month temporary visa at the Baghdad airport. The usual route is via Vienna or Frankfurt to Amman, Jordan, and then to Baghdad. Most of the large companies employ tourist agents who meet people in Amman. If you have been in the business for long enough, you always have a few addresses you can contact and let them know you are available and ready and often you get work within a couple of weeks. In our trade we say that the address-book is often more important than the wallet’, he says.
Gabrijel has had a chance to meet many people from the former Yugoslavia in war-time Iraq. Most come from Bosnia, mostly those previously employed by SFOR. There are Serbians, Macedonians, Kosovars. ‘Most are engaged in logistics, with big companies such as KBR and others. Very few work in security. Ex-Yugoslavs are known as good mechanics, although the best money in that area is taken by the Philippinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, etc’, he says.
‘The most important thing of all is not to go if your only motive is the money. You will make the wrong choices, with the highest degree of risk, least well paid, with no insurance, inadequate equipment and support. This has been proven a hundred times, and a few people from our part of the world died as a consequence, including a good friend of mine. People who enlist personnel know about this weakness, but they have no emotions, in their eyes, you’re just a number’, he concludes.
Serbia has no legal regulation determining the rules of that game, so it is quite possible that the mercenary training ground can turn into a terrorist training camp.