Iraq, America and hired guns

By Bernd Debusmann
August 6, 2010

Here is a summary of America’s future role in Iraq, in the words of President Barack Obama: “Our commitment is changing — from a military effort led by our soldiers to a diplomatic effort led by our diplomats.”

And here is a note of caution about that promised change: “Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives.”

Obama’s statement came in an Aug. 2 speech in which he confirmed that by the end of this month, America’s combat role would end. The 50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq (down from a peak of almost 170,000) would advise, train and support Iraqi security forces. By the end of next year, the last U.S. soldier would come home.

The warning on inadequate planning and the danger of wasting billions was sounded in a mid-July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a bi-partisan panel set up in 2008 in response to mounting concern over waste and inefficiencies on a monumental scale in dealing with ever-growing legions of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The commission’s report challenged the widespread perception that Iraq is on the road to normality after years of floundering thanks to the right military strategy and democratic processes including elections. “In stable, peaceful countries, (the Department of) State can count on the host nation to meet emergency needs for security or other services,” the report said.

“Iraq, however, is not stable and peaceful.” Instead, it is “turbulent”, a state of affairs that has consequences Obama did not mention in his end-of-combat-mission speech. The president’s civilian effort led by diplomats requires protection. Once the soldiers leave, that protection will have to come from thousands of newly contracted private military contractors.

It is the latest twist in the often perverse logic that has driven America’s war in Iraq — uniformed soldiers out, hired guns in. The number of private security contractors protecting American civilians is forecast to rise from 2,700 now to between 6,000 and 7,000.

“They will have contractors flying aircraft, driving armored vehicles, providing medevac (medical evacuations), dealing with explosive ordinance disposal,” Grant Green, a member of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, said in a radio interview after Obama’s speech. “You are going to have a lot more contractors doing things that many people will consider inherently governmental, or close to combat.”

“INHERENTLY GOVERNMENTAL” ROLES

The phrase “inherently governmental” is at the heart of the often contentious debate over the use of private contractors, some of whom have made headlines and given an entire industry a black image by using excessive force and antagonizing local populations with Wild West behavior. (Think Blackwater.)

Giving inherently governmental roles to private contractors can backfire in many ways. “If they are raising their own mini-army, they’ll also become more prominent targets,” says Robert Young Pelton, author of “Licensed to Kill”, a book on the rise of private military contractors. “Once the military leaves, violence is likely to rise.”

Ironically, America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has a track record of fierce opposition to war-time contractors. When she was running for president, against Obama, she was the first co-sponsor of a bill stipulating that “all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by federal government personnel”.
Explaining her support for the bill, she said: “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”

The bill did not pass. Its intent clashes with reality on the ground — the world’s only superpower cannot fight its wars nor protect its diplomats in unstable countries without private contractors. Their number is vast — 95,000 in Iraq and 112,000 in Afghanistan according to the latest Pentagon count. This means that there are more civilian contractors than American troops both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contrary to popular perceptions, most of the contractors are not armed and perform jobs that range from driving trucks and cooking food to issuing ID cards and cleaning toilets. In Iraq, the United States lists 11,029 armed private security contractors (11.5 percent of the total), just over 1,000 of them Americans, working for the Pentagon. (Those figures do not include contractors for the State Department or the CIA).

Is there a way to stuff the contractor genie back into the bottle? Probably not. The trend towards outsourcing roles previously performed by the military began with the end of the Cold War and the perceived “peace dividend” that prompted the armed forces to be shrunk by some 800,000. Contractors make up part of the gap.

There’s no scarcity of job opportunities for them. In Baghdad alone, guarding the fortress-like U.S. embassy, America’s biggest in the world, and ferrying diplomats to appointments in convoys of bullet-proof cars, requires a cast of hundreds.

Add security personnel for five planned new embassy outposts around the country — known as Enduring Presence Posts — and you have a small army of private soldiers. And that’s not counting at least a dozen other key security-related tasks the State Department will have to take over from the military.

36 comments

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Having worked many years in Middle East, Muslin Nations, having experience in the Diplomatic duties in addition to exploration as geologist. Followed the counseling that Religion must be free, respected, open to all citizens of the Nation, where each of us, worked as guest of the Nation. The lacking of knowledge about the purpose of the institution programmed to be built, is not 100% Mosque, in fact the planning will be historical, travel data, geographic information, and many phases to learn about Middle East. Fundamentals, IGNORANCE CREATE RACISM, HATE, VITRIOLIC BEHAVIOR, these negative virtues, for some, are driving the issues for the large percentages indicated. Time to learn, time to civilized the radical fringe. The very small minority of the militaristic right wing in Isreal, promote via the Media controlled by them – TV – Radio – Newspapers ect..
Will be appropiate not to allowed to flood the news, much better choose peace, wisdon Job 28 – 28, then they can live secured and in peace… In addition the news spreaded out – these had long history of what happen to good soldiers and why —
Big News, US and NATO soldiers, went into Iraq, under planned false pretences, in fact – for us – geologists with ample sense, basic knowhow, the war was, from the start, a false canaille, for not called riffraff, lies soon after the Sept 11 91 that was known for years, the ways and means to control, acquired or steal the oil and gas reserves in the Middle East Nations. Iraq was choice cut in all aspects. Born inside the top managing channels of VP Chaney’s days, after the Election — was the ting to do. No one care for the young soldiers casualties, including PM Hon. Blair’s son, he recognize such war and the loss of his son, as blood money, PM definition is correct.
Bennycs.

Posted by Bennycs-ms | Report as abusive

Big News, US and NATO soldiers, went into Iraq, under planned false pretences, in fact – for us – geologists with ample sense, basic knowhow, the war was, from the start, a false canaille, for not called riffraff, lies soon after the Sept 11 91 that was known for years, the ways and means to control, acquired or steal the oil and gas reserves in the Middle East Nations. Iraq was choice cut in all aspects. Born inside the top managing channels of VP Chaney’s days, after the Election — was the ting to do. No one care for the young soldiers casualties, including PM Hon. Blair’s son, he recognize such war and the loss of his son, as blood money, PM definition is correct.
Bennycs.

Posted by Bennycs-ms | Report as abusive

200,000 contracted staff -are some of them underpaid african mercenaries ?

Posted by phrage | Report as abusive

US,of course.The biggest terrorist country in the world.

Posted by pkuwu | Report as abusive

This might be the best answer. Rental Armies have been around a long time. They are not popular, but they do get the job done or they don’t get paid. Just think what it would be like if our lawmakers were only paid if their laws turned out to actually work! Free of political grandstanding and emotional breast beating, this could work.

Posted by s.wadlington | Report as abusive

This might be the best answer. Rental Armies have been around a long time. They are not popular, but they do get the job done or they don’t get paid. Just think what it would be like if our lawmakers were only paid if their laws turned out to actually work! Free of political grandstanding and emotional breast beating, this could work.

Posted by s.wadlington | Report as abusive

The contractors are there, paid for by the tax payer, to protect all those oil contracts for Corps. Make the corps pay for their own protection.

Posted by diddums | Report as abusive

America is now the leading imperialist and rules an empire by both legal and illegal means. The continuation of paid armies both regular and mercenary is normal for the system that the populations of the world, Capitalism. The British were extremely good at it, the union jack was rightly called the butchers apron, so this dubious honour has now been taken over by America. When the politicians in the UK are told to jump to the Americans tune, the question is how high?, how far? and how long?!

Posted by madamd | Report as abusive

How come there’s no news on the mainstream media about the US backed nuclear power station being built in Vietnam with full uranium enrichment capabilities?
There’s not much about the UAE’s new nuclear power station either… is that going to enrich uranium too. All this power politics is going to go boom some time soon.
Maybe some of these contractors will come back glowing in the dark if we don’t get back to democratic sane policies for the benefit of the many and not just a few greedy megalomaniacs.

Posted by Tiu | Report as abusive

Re The comments here on the UN and “The military is a broad sword. It is there to destroy targets, to take over and hold key terrain. It is a tool not initially meant to nation build.”

One of the issues faced by British and other NATO armies is that they are trained in Peace Keeping and the US forces are not. Friends of mine in the British forces hated taking over zones after the US forces had done a tour there. Invariably the local population were hostile from their perceived experiences brutality and unnecessary violence. British forces for example are trained in the local customs, they train in how to engage the local populace. how to work with them where they can. Hearts and minds anyone? This has also been cited as a problem for US troops on UN duties. I have read reports that they suffer much higher levels of stress because they are put into situations of peace keeping for which they are not trained.

Mercenaries are not the answer. As we have seen they can opperate well beyond the law and they are not as accountable as a professional force serving with checks and balances and answerable to the political representatives of that nation.

As for the UN. Yes, very often they are not allowed to shoot because heir mandate might not permit it. They are operating legally under strict international laws and their particular mandate. It is my hope that one day it will become an effective internationally approved arm protecting vulnerable groups and countries effectively. To get there requires time and international support. Or are we always jut going to wade in illegally?

Posted by kevin_000 | Report as abusive

After the US leaves Iraq it won’t matter who is carrying the the weapons or who is paying for it, within 24 months they will back to Islamic Law and the same mess they had before. International opinion seems to disparage the US for doing what is necessary to protect our country and the lives of our citizens, in the US as well as abroad. If terrorists bombed Parliament,Paris or anywhere else i’ll bet they wouldn’t be so critical. Oh wait, that did happen once before and most of the world seemed to appreciate the efforts of the US Military as well as the efforts of our civilian workforce.

Posted by gmroder | Report as abusive

My thanks to President Karzai for trying to rid Iraq of the lawless soldiers-of-fortune of the former Blackwater. I have long wanted them out of there and into prison for their murders (and I don’t use the term loosely like some) and for ripping off the treasury.
I hoped when the US and Iraq renegotiated their status-of-forces treaty, Iraq would push for putting the ‘contractors’ under SOME form of law, but as far as I heard, it wasn’t mentioned. This is SUPPOSED to be a “Gov’t. of LAWS, not men.”

Posted by wildbillnum1 | Report as abusive

Where does everyone think these contractors come from. most are highly exprienced Special Operations forces who have retired which makes them more well trained then the kids in the military who would be doing the job.
Second miltary contractors fall under Iraq law so they have even less leeway that the militaries their replacing.
Also I can say first hand when your a military contrator while you gat paid more you don’t have Uncle Sam any more to pay all the other things (insurance, Medical,Transportaion….)
I know some off these guys, the last thing I would ever descibe them as is Mercenaries.
The us has a checkered past in the middle east going back to before WW1, Read up on it and I’m sure all you highly intelligent people can find some thing to knock the US for that is based in fact and not uninformed emotion.

Posted by merv1356 | Report as abusive

Without mercenaries who is going to protect the u.s. oil interest that is just starting to get underway,in a big way, obama is destroying the oil business in the gulf of mexico so we have to have oil to get to work or go back to riding horses which causes a mess on the highway and smell like washington politics .

Posted by jljamup | Report as abusive

Those that think that these Mercenaries are elite disciplined troops might want to watch ‘Shadow Company’.

I for one support the illegal invasion of Iraq. The previous regime was well on the way to genocide using nerve agents against its own population.

However ‘we’ (please note that the US has been heavily supported by many other countries including my own) have failed to win the hearts and minds of most of the population.

At the formal end of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland it was estimated that the cost to the UK was some $1.4 million per head of population. One journalist wondered if just a fraction of that was spent on creating good employment and infrastructure would people have bothered to fight?

BTW – Iraq oil reserves are very small compared to Saudi and Iran for example.

At the formal end of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland it was estimated that the cost to the UK was some $1.4 million per head of population. One journalist wonderred if just a fraction of that was spent on creating good employment and infrastructure would people have bothered to fight?

Posted by kevin_000 | Report as abusive

Greg Ross makes a good point, but fails to account for a… I hesitate to use fact. I firmly believe that those people who are either ignorant or decieving themselves are the people responsible for running the US. They are the ones supporting the US bureaucracy. What makes you think you can convice them to act otherwise?

Contractors can be loyal, capable, and I believe still fall under military law.

There have been examples of evil men in the “governmental” military as well. Abu Ghraib what?

The principle problem with contractors is their ridiculous cost relative to governmental troops. Better to not deal with the hassle. Contractors are for intelligence work, not military patrols.

That said, I have *no* problem with bodyguards and similar, because US military forces are trained to fight a war, not be a police force… they are a field army, not a police army, hence the issues that Kevin_000 mentions.

Posted by ComeWhatMay | Report as abusive