Iraq Deploys Special Forces to Baghdad Airport to Increase Security

Published: 12 January 2024

Baghdad Airport ArmyThe Rapid Response Team, one of the Iraqi elite forces within the formations of the Ministry of the Interior, was deployed to additionally secure the Baghdad Airport. (Photo: Rapid Response Squad/Facebook, License)

By Aisha Kehoe Down

Iraqi authorities have deployed special forces to increase security at Baghdad International Airport. The move follows OCCRP’s December investigation that revealed the company contracted to secure the airport had no previous experience, and many of its staff claimed their salaries were not paid for several months.

Reporters found that the Canadian company Biznis Intel was appointed to secure the airport in September 2022, but appeared to have misrepresented its credentials to Iraqi officials.

A number of its current and former staff alleged that the situation had put Iraq’s main airport, which handles two million passengers a year, at risk.

There has been a growing number of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in recent months, and the security situation in the wider region has worsened since the Hamas-Israel war erupted in October.

Witnesses had informed OCCRP about the new presence of troops at the airport a day after the investigation was published on December 21, and the deployment was officially confirmed on Wednesday.

"We deployed members of our special forces to secure the outer perimeter of Baghdad International Airport, by order of the Prime Minister, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and the directives of the Minister of the Interior, to repel any armed threat and impose air traffic stability,” Abdul Amir Al-Muhammadani, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Rapid Deployment forces, a unit of the special forces, told OCCRP.

Former Biznis Intel staffers Hennie Visser from South Africa and Aybuke Koksal from Turkey told OCCRP they’d seen the special forces at the airport before they both left Baghdad, Visser on December 30 and Koksal on January 5.

The two were among the nearly one hundred expatriates hired by Biznis Intel, but Visser resigned in November, and Koksal’s contract was terminated in December, after the company had not paid them and some of their colleagues since May, they said.

Both spent a number of weeks at the airport waiting for their salaries, which, they say, were finally given to them with significant deductions.

Koksal, who was the company’s veterinarian, told OCCRP she was fired after she posted a comment about her missing seven months’ salary on LinkedIn.

Biznis Intel’s owner, Hafeez Oki, initially declined to comment on the allegations but later contacted OCCRP to say his company had won the contract after a “competitive bidding process,” and had "met all the legal contractual requirements." He said Biznis Intel had raised salaries and improved employee benefits, and that he had only fired staff for serious misconduct. He said there had been no security breaches at the airport since Biznis Intel was hired.

Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority and the office of Iraq’s prime minister did not answer reporters’ requests for comment.