Saturday, 2 January 2016

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's cost cutting is causing problems in Iraq?

On 31 December 2015 The Australian reported on Unity Resources Group, originally registered in Australia by co-founders former special forces commander Gordon Conroy and former army reservists Martin Simich but now apparently incorporated in Dubai, and what appears to be the flow-on effect of cost-cutting by the Dept. of Foreign Affairs:

The Australian has confirmed that up to 40 Australian protection specialists will be flown out of Iraq tomorrow after accusing their employer, Dubai-based Unity Resources Group, of risking lives by scrimping on arms and protective equipment, bypassing detailed security checks and providing inferior medical support and insurance cover.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has recently awarded URG a new five-year contract, worth nearly $51 million, to provide personal protection for embassy staff from Friday until the end of 2020. Tender documents show the new contract is barely half the $101m URG was paid to provide security for the five years from January 1, 2011 to today.
It is understood the majority of personnel who will leave refused to sign the new work contracts in protest, while at least three others who signalled they would be prepared to sign on again, but were known by management to have complained about conditions, have been told their positions will be filled.
Staffers who remain on the ground in Baghdad are becoming increasingly anxious and do not believe that URG will be able to follow the security protocols required by the DFAT contract in the short time remaining.
Sources claim the limited time to recruit the new protection specialists does not leave enough time to conduct proper background checks, including medical and psychological screening.
They also fear the new recruits will lack sufficient training in the protection of a diplomatic post in areas such as weapons handling and close personal protection.
"January 1st will bring in a swath of inexperience and risk at a time when Baghdad is going through chaotic and unpredictable change," one senior protection officer said. "URG HQ and local project managers' rushed intent of getting bums on seats at any cost to have the numbers for January 1 will result in deadly consequences. They will not have the right people to deliver the high-quality protection the Australian embassy staff in Baghdad rely on." URG, which was founded by former Australian special forces commander Gordon Conroy, declined to respond to detailed questions from The Australian.
DFAT responded to detailed questions by saying its longstanding practice was not to comment on security arrangements at its overseas missions. Sources in the department disputed the claim that URG was short 40 workers but would not comment on the concerns raised by URG staff.
"The Australian government places the highest priority on the safety of all its personnel, especially those in high-threat locations such as Kabul and Baghdad," a DFAT official said.
This quasi-military company has a somewhat chequered past, with the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries in 2008 corresponding with the Australian Government over some of the company's actions and whose private military personnel allegedly shot and killed 72 year-old Australian resident Professor Kays Juma and Armenian civilians Mary Awanis and Genevia Antranick, as well as seriously wounding an unidentified man , in Iraq in 2006-2007. Additionally, this company was accused of ignoring risk factors which led to the 2008 killing of U.S. aid worker Stephen Vance in Peshawar, Pakistan.

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