ACTION ALERT: Bill Calls for Contractors To Exit Iraq

November 20th, 2007 - by admin

Dana Hedgpeth / Washington Post – 2007-11-20 00:10:29

800 Armed Guards Would Leave Within Six Months

WASHINFTON (November 8, 2007) —An Illinois congresswoman yesterday proposed the rapid withdrawal of hundreds of armed security contractors who provide protective services for the State Department in Iraq.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) introduced legislation that she said would call for the phasing out of some 800 armed contractors who work for Blackwater, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy in Iraq over the next six months. She proposes that the contractors be replaced with military or diplomatic security personnel or military police.

“There’s been major examples of how these companies adversely affect the mission,” Schakowsky said. “They jeopardize our uniformed men and women, and they jeopardize the morale of our troops. They strain our diplomatic relations. They’re unaccountable.”

The contractors have come under increased scrutiny on a variety of issues, including their billing records and their use of force, leading many congressional leaders to push for more oversight and accountability.

Blackwater has been in the spotlight the most. On Sept. 16, armed contractors working for Blackwater allegedly shot and killed 17 people in Baghdad. The incident sparked congressional hearings and federal investigations into how security contractors operate in Iraq and who oversees them.

Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy won the contract with the State Department in June 2005 to provide protective services. The five-year contract is worth up to $1.2 billion for each contractor. In addition to withdrawing those three firms, Schakowsky’s bill also calls for pulling all private armed security contractors — estimated to number 48,000 — out of Iraq or other war zones by 2009.

“We understand it is going to take time to train and deploy what is a large number of people,” Schakowsky said. “We wanted to put a reasonable time on it. But we want to make it very clear the time is now to make plans to make it the end of the use of these contractors.”

Critics say it is going to be difficult to find military personnel to replace the contractors. The limited number of military personnel in Iraq led to the reliance on private contractors not only for security but also for such services as doing laundry, feeding troops and setting up housing.

“There’s so much stuff security contractors are doing, I just don’t see all of them being replaced,” said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, which represents security contractors.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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Private Contractors Outnumber US Troops in Iraq
T.Christian Miller / Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON (July 4, 2007) — The number of US-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops, newly released figures show, raising fresh questions about the privatization of the war effort and the government’s capacity to carry out military and rebuilding campaigns.

More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under US contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.

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.

“These numbers are big,” said Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written on military contracting. “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 include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about 118,000 Iraqis — all employed in Iraq by US tax dollars, according to the most recent government data.

The array of private workers promises to be a factor in debates on a range of policy issues, including the privatization of military jobs and the number of Iraqi refugees allowed to resettle in the US

But there are also signs that even those mounting numbers may not capture the full picture. Private security contractors, who are hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey, according to industry and government officials.

Continuing uncertainty over the numbers of armed contractors drew special criticism from military experts.

“We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” said 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.”

Although private companies have played a role in conflicts since the American Revolution, the US has relied more on contractors in Iraq than in any other war, according to military experts.

Contractors perform functions including construction, security and weapons system maintenance.

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,” said Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.”

But critics worry that troops and their missions could be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire.

At one point in 2004, for example, US forces were put on food rations when drivers balked at taking supplies into a combat zone.

Adding an element of potential confusion, no single agency keeps track of the number or location of contractors.

In response to demands from Congress, the US Central Command began a census last year of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water and shelter was needed.

That census, provided to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, shows about 130,000 contractors and subcontractors of different nationalities working at US and Iraqi military bases.

However, US military officials acknowledged that the census did not include other government agencies, including the US Agency for International Development and the State Department.

Last month, USAID reported about 53,000 Iraqis employed under US reconstruction contracts, doing jobs such as garbage pickup and helping to teach democracy. In interviews, agency officials said an additional 300 Americans and foreigners worked as contractors for the agency.

State Department officials said they could not provide the department’s number of contractors. Of about 5,000 people affiliated with the US Embassy in Iraq, about 300 are State Department employees. The rest are a mix of other government agency workers and contractors, many of whom are building the new embassy.

“There are very few of us, and we’re way undermanned,” said one State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have significant shortages of people. It’s been that way since before [the war], and it’s still that way.”

The companies with the largest number of employees are foreign firms in the Middle East that subcontract to KBR, the Houston-based oil services company, according to the Central Command database. KBR, once a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., provides logistics support to troops, the single largest contract in Iraq.

Middle Eastern companies, including Kulak Construction Co. of Turkey and Projects International of Dubai, supply labor from Third World countries to KBR and other US companies for menial work on US bases and rebuilding projects. Foreigners are used instead of Iraqis because of fears that insurgents could infiltrate projects.

KBR is by far the largest employer of Americans, with nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include New York-based L-3 Communications, which holds a contract to provide translators to troops, and ITT Corp., a New York engineering and technology firm.

The most controversial contractors are those working for private security companies, including Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Erinys. They guard sensitive sites and provide protection to US and Iraqi government officials and businessmen.

Security contractors draw some of the sharpest criticism, much of it from military policy experts who say their jobs should be done by the military. On several occasions, heavily armed private contractors have engaged in firefights when attacked by Iraqi insurgents.

Others worry that the private security contractors lack accountability. Although scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.

The number of private security contractors in Iraq remains unclear, despite Central Command’s latest census. The Times identified 21 security companies in the Central Command database, deploying 10,800 men.

However, the Defense Department’s Motsek, who monitors contractors, said the Pentagon estimated the total was 6,000.

Both figures are far below the private security industry’s own estimate of about 30,000 private security contractors working for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, media outlets and businesses.

Industry officials said that private security companies helped reduce the number of troops needed in Iraq and provided jobs to Iraqis — a benefit in a country with high unemployment.

“A guy who is working for a [private security company] is not out on the street doing something inimical to our interests,” said Lawrence Peter, director of the Private Security Company Assn. of Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Iraqis make up the largest number of civilian employees under US contracts. Typically, the government contracts with an American firm, which then subcontracts with an Iraqi firm to do the job.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a contractors’ trade group, said the number of Iraqis reflected the importance of the reconstruction and economic development efforts to the overall US mission in Iraq.

“That’s not work that the government does or has ever done. . . . That’s work that is going to be done by companies and to some extent by” nongovernmental organizations, Soloway said. “People tend to think that these are contractors on the battlefield, and they’re not.”

The Iraqis have been the most difficult to track. As recently as May, the Pentagon told Congress that 22,000 Iraqis were employed by its contractors. But the Pentagon number recently jumped to 65,000 — a result of closer inspection of contracts, an official said.

The total number of Iraqis employed under US contracts is important, in part because it may influence debate in Congress regarding how many Iraqis will be allowed to come to the US to escape violence in their homeland.

This year, the US planned to cap that number at 7,000 a year. To date, however, only a few dozen Iraqis have been admitted, according to State Department figures.

Kirk Johnson, head of the List Project, which seeks to increase the admission of Iraqis, said that the US needed to provide a haven to those who worked most closely with American officials.

“We all say we are grateful to these Iraqis,” Johnson said. “How can we be the only superpower in the world that can’t implement what we recognize as a moral imperative?”

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