Baghdad airport row reveals Iraq business pitfalls
26 Jun 2005
By Luke Baker
BAGHDAD, June 26 (Reuters) - Security operations at Baghdad airport resumed on Sunday after a two-day shutdown that grounded travellers and revealed some of the difficulties international businesses can face in postwar Iraq.
Global Risk Strategies, headquartered in London, said its 550 staff would resume guard duties at Baghdad airport despite the fact the company has not been paid for several months of work under its agreement with the Iraqi government.
"Nothing's been resolved at this point. We haven't received any funds and there's no contract," Paul Simington, one of Global's directors, told Reuters by telephone from Dubai.
"We didn't want to cause any more difficulties for the community that uses Baghdad airport," he said in explaining why operations were resuming despite the continued problems.
Spokesmen for the Iraqi government, including the Transport Ministry, either declined comment or could not be reached.
The company's two-day work suspension caused all civil aviation at the airport, which normally handles some 50 mostly cargo flights a day, to be cancelled. U.S. forces were brought in to secure the complex for military use only.
"We hope this has woken people in the Iraqi government up a bit," Simington said, expressing frustration.
Global won a contract to secure the airport last June. Worth several million dollars, it was regarded as one of the most important contracts in Iraq, with the airport an essential outside link as well as a frequent target for guerrilla attack.
The one-year deal was signed as power was being handed from U.S. authorities to an Iraqi interim government in late June -- a factor that appears to have caused subsequent problems.
Payment was initially secured by U.S. authorities, but from Nov. 1 it became the interim government's responsibility.
"That's when the difficulties began," said Simington. "It was hard to get paid by the Ministry of Transport in November and December. They were saying there was no contract signed with them and that it wasn't their responsibility," he said.
Earlier this week, Transport Ministy officials said Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's office was dealing with the dispute.
Officials from neither office were available on Sunday. Jaafari has for the past week been on a tour to Europe and the United States, seeking foreign investment and other support for Iraq.
Global says the company struggled to get paid late last year and early this year and has been funding salaries, housing, food and insurance for 550 staff out of its own finances.
As well as Iraqis, it employs hundreds of foreigners, many of them Nepalese former soldiers from British Gurkha units.
In April, as a new Iraqi government was being formed after January elections, the Transport Ministry invited bids for a new contract to secure the airport, a contract Global won. But the company says it still has not been paid.
"We've been patient," said Simington. "But we are a commercial operation and the meter is running."
Criticising a "lack of cooperation across the board" after months of trying to meet those in authority in Iraq, he said:
"We just keep getting ignored and being paid lip service."
Other Global contracts, including protecting the Green Zone compound in Baghdad, have not been affected.