- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

BAGHDAD — Travelers were stranded yesterday when the London-based company that ensures security at Baghdad International Airport staged a strike to demand payment of money owed.

Flights were not expected to resume before today, as talks dragged on between Global Strategies Group and the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation, Giles Morgan, a company spokesman, said from London.

He declined to say what the issues were between the two sides.

“Due to unresolved commercial issues between Global Strategies Group and its client, the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation, Global has temporarily suspended its operation to manage security at Baghdad International Airport,” the company said.

Global’s 500-strong force — most of them Nepalese former soldiers with British Gurkha units — did not show up yesterday, catching even U.S. troops guarding the perimeter by surprise, one soldier said on the condition of anonymity.

“We didn’t know until two hours ago,” the soldier said early in the day. “We don’t know when it’s going to reopen.”

The company had not been paid for at least three months of work, said a company executive who asked to remain anonymous. A Transportation Ministry spokesman referred calls to the national flag carrier Iraqi Airways.

“We have suspended our operations temporarily. When we reach a satisfactory conclusion, we will resume operations,” Mr. Morgan said.

The airport is in near constant use by the U.S. and British military as well as commercial operators, with around 50 commercial flights a day. Royal Jordanian and Iraqi Airways have daily flights from Baghdad to Amman and other destinations.

A U.S. military spokesman told Reuters news agency the strike would not affect its operations. One side of the airport, a vast complex on the western outskirts of Baghdad, is dedicated to military use, with a separate runway and air traffic control.

Escorted by two police cars, a convoy of white, four-wheel-drive vehicles often used by Iraqi dignitaries was turned back by U.S. soldiers at the airport perimeter yesterday.

Travelers carrying suitcases stood nearby, not knowing whether to stay or turn back along the dangerous access road.

Iraqi authorities had agreed to pay the company after weeks of negotiations between company directors, the ministry and Iraqi Airways, said Adil Ali, an airline executive.

“All flights are stopped. Even the staff from Iraqi Airways are not allowed in,” Mr. Ali said. “About the payment, they should have given us prior notice.”

It is not the first time Global workers have had trouble getting paid.

Twice before, they threatened to take their rifles and leave before the U.S. Embassy intervened with the Transportation Ministry, a senior U.S. official said.

In May, an Iraqi judge summoned former Transportation Minister Louei Hatim Sultan al-Aris for questioning about claims of corruption. The judge said Interpol would be asked to find Mr. al-Aris if he did not respond.

Global Strategies staffs checkpoints and handles passenger and baggage screening at the airport. The company took over the contract in June 2004.

The facility has closed and reopened several other times in recent weeks, first when sandstorms cut visibility and later for security reasons, Mr. Ali said.

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