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Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
43,000 foreign contractors;
about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” (Miller 4/7/2004) (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)
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