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The emergence of private military firms (PMFs) that supply not only weapons and craft – arms, munitions, ships – but also services that were once performed by armies is a highly significant, albeit little known, phenomenon. A certain amount of media attention has been dedicated to firms that make available ‘new mercenaries’, armed men who perform veritable war-related activities, to anyone prepared to sustain their costs, but the spectrum of support functions they supply to regular armies is vast and complex. In Iraq there are about 20,000 private contractors, numerically speaking the second force after the American contingent. We are thus faced with the privatisation of a function, that of defence, traditionally deemed a constituent part of the modern state. Furthermore, both firms and their employees pose new problems from the operational point of view – the first are at the disposal of those who pay the bills for their services, the second have no obligation of loyalty towards the people they fight for – and from the legal point of view, since relevant international norms are de facto unenforceable.