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Highway to Hell - Dispatches From a Mercenary in Iraq Print
 By John Geddes (Broadway Books)

It's a chatty British page-turner that describes a lot of "slotting along a dual carriageway."

Do you need an interpreter?

John Geddes' actual style is a lot more reader-friendly than that, though he seems to think anyone North American ought to understand that "slotting" is British military slang for killing. "Dual carriageway" just means any two-way road or street. That could be an understated British way to describe the desolate 530-kilometre stretch between Baghdad and Iraq's border with Jordan. Geddes calls it the Highway to Hell.

His writing involves copious use of what most publications call expletives - an uncensored version of the speech habits in many armed forces. Geddes spells out all the words.

A veteran of an elite British military unit, he proudly calls himself a "private military contractor" or PMC. At 53, he's an executive in London of Ronin Concepts Ltd., licensed by a Security Industry Authority under British law. He says there are 100,000 PMCs in Iraq, many of them hired by the U.S. and British governments to protect VIPs instead of using regular military for the job. They are sometimes paid 10 times as much as American soldiers would be.

Another British security firm, with the more thought-provoking name Executive Outcomes, is involved in a long trial over an alleged plot against a West African government. That's the one with which Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former British prime minister, was associated. Blackwater is the best known American contractor.

Geddes' story begins with a quick shootout on the road. As he tells the story, the shootout was between him as bodyguard for a British TV crew in an SUV, and four armed Iraqis in a black BMW who wanted to kidnap them. A man in the BMW's front seat fired a burst across the SUV's hood. Hiding the AK-47 on his lap as the BMW closed in, Geddes fired through the doors of the two cars when they were only about one metre apart.

"I watched the driver's head explode as the height difference of the two vehicles laid it on the line," he writes. "The gunman next to him screamed, openmouthed in horror, all hatred and disdain wiped clear from his eyes by disbelief, as the assault rounds sliced into him, too, and tracked through his body."

Geddes ordered his own driver to speed off. Many other clashes follow. So do tales of heroism.

The book enthusiastically defends the mercenary trade as useful and ethical, comparing it favourably with the standards of UN peacekeepers.
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