Going local for oil and people protection in Iraq

06

Sep 2016

Tim Compston speaks to Al Murabit, part of the Iraqi conglomerate Harlow International, and other company representatives, about what is involved in the protection of economically-critical oil facilities and personnel working across the war-tom country.

Looking at these businesses in more detail, Al Thaware Security Services (ATS-109) is headquartered in Baghdad and specialises in construction, defence, and VIP security services. Further south, Al Murabit Security Services (AMS¬91) centred on Basra focuses instead, primarily, on the vast oil and gas industry.

The two security companies – ATS-109 and AMS-9I – originally cut their teeth providing security services internally to the group (Harlow). “We do a large amount of construction work so you can imagine there was there was a significant internal security requirement and they wanted to turn that into a commercial business to create a profit.”

Iraqi Solution

A major milestone on the way to offering Iraqi security services externally, to challenge the dominance of global security providers, was PSC1.1 accreditation. “This is the highest external accreditation out there for international security companies. This has allowed us to take what has been quite an interesting road for the Iraqi security sector and put in for large security projects.”

Moving forward, there is wide agreement that Iraqis need to take, and want to take, greater ownership of their own security responsibilities in the country. “We saw that as a real opportunity and have put that into an outfit which is now 95 percent Iraqi and five percent expat. People training is done by expos, operations management by expats , but we are now effectively 100 per cent Iraqi owned and a 95 per cent Iraqi-led entity. We have a lot of good Iraqis in the team, young guys who may have been born in Iraq, came to the UK, and now want to go back and join the security industry. As professionals we are mentoring and helping develop an Iraqi industry.”

Oil Industry

Turning to the thoughts of Dr. Shawqi Salman Ali, who is the director of administration for AMS- 91 (Al Murabit Security Services) centred on the port of Basra in the south of the country, on the importance of the oil and gas sector. “It [oil] is the main source of revenue for the Iraqi government and its future success will be an important element in ensuring stability.” Drilling down to the security challenges that AMS-91’s oil industry customers face on a daily basis, Dr. Shawqi Salinas All believes that, sadly, the political instability that the country suffers from has a very direct impact. He goes on to reveal that the majority of the oilfields that AMS-91 are involved with are surrounded by or in vicinity of local tribal areas. “Sometimes there are disagreements and conflicts in these areas that pose a security challenge and can increase the threat. Liaising with partners on the-ground is vital, says Dr. Shawqi Salman Ali, to ensure that AMS-91 can tap into the best local knowledge and then advise its clients on how to operate in the region despite these difficult.

Although no one would deny that southern Iraq doesn’t have its well documented problems Dr. Shawqi Salman Al is keen to put this into a broader context, “In comparison with other provinces in the country, southern Iraq is actually more stable and the threat level has lessened in recent years.” He is also adamant that, whatever the issues, Iraq is still a country that provides businesses with plenty of opportunities and, in his view, the ‘threat levels can be managed’.

Expanding on the benefits for oil companies who decide to work with a local Iraqi security provider, Dr. Shawqi Salman Ali says that essentially they know the local security situation better as they actually come from the region and understand the local history, leaders, and systems.

Dr. Shawqi Salman Ali believes that a high level of training is critical for a provider like Al Murabit who wants to work with international oil businesses. He believes that expert instructors need to cover elements such as advanced protective techniques and driving, plus the use of weapons with trainees. He adds that personnel should complete monthly training schedules. “This might comprise local and national law, codes of ethics, and human rights.”

VIP Protection

Heading north from Basra to the capital of Iraqi — Baghdad, which is much closer to the frontline of dashes between Iraqi forces and so called Islamic State (IS), one of the key requirements from a security perspective is the ability to provide VIP protection to keep the wheels of business and government moving.

Interestingly, Ali Muhe the Baghdad manager, reports that the attacks and security situation in northern Iraq, which so often hits the headlines, isn’t really influencing the need for protection in Bagdad itself. “The security requirements in Baghdad and in the northern area are very different. The government doesn’t allow us to travel to areas like Mosul or Rarnadi.”

Typical VIP protection work, according to Muhe, involves delivering mobile security from the airport to Baghdad and for visits to government offices and places of business. “We have also provided static site security for VIP villas in the past.”

For VIP protection to run smoothly Muhe points out the necessity of ongoing communication with the Iraqi government and other authorities. “We have to acquire the government’s approval for movement. Without close coordination with the government there could be problems with delays at checkpoints that could leave clients in danger” He adds that by working with the government it is possible to have some assistance from government agencies, the police, and the army during operations.

Muhe reiterates that for a successful VIP protection other key elements need to be built into the equation. “We do the right things; we check the safety of the area in advance of any task. Our operations stall evaluate the area and manage and monitor all of the operations.”

Armoured Action

Added to this, Muhe feels that one aspect where Al Murabit has a definite edge over the competition is on the armoured vehicle front. Unlike some providers who mix armoured and soft skin vehicles, Muhe says for their security companies armoured vehicles are the order of the day. Regarding hose vehicle protection levels have improved, Muhe says that B6 armoured vehicles are ‘indispensable for our mission. Of course with these being much heavier than normal road-going vehicles those operating them require addition-al skills. “Drivers also need to know how to take cover or to avoid a threat and how to react to an incident.”

Joined-up Thinking

The message that comes out of speaking to Al Murabit Security Services and the team about security in Iraq is that, whether it be helping to protect oil installations, or making sure that VIPs are able to travel to and from their destinations, combining good on-the-ground knowledge and relationships with expat expertise, having the right training in place to field a predominantly local workforce, meeting key international standards, and deploying well protected vehicles adds opportunity to a very competitive proposition.