Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

Comments
36 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Who is the biggest terrorist nation in the world?

Posted by Shukla | Report as abusive
 

The USA, of course.

Posted by VyRuS | Report as abusive
 

Private army’s/navies, etc should be illegal. That is why we HAVE provisions for military in the Constitution.

If we need military personal re-institute the draft.

Posted by dennisaa | Report as abusive
 

Yay, and this is how the private warfare business will flourish. Feels just like the middle age.

Posted by MDan | Report as abusive
 

This reminds me of the fifteenth century. The Duke of Burgundy Charles the Bold traveled with a contingent of about 150 English archers at all times. His army consisted mainly of Italian and English professionals. He had the most advanced armament at his disposal. Yet, he did not carry the day.

Read more here:
http://brainmindinst.blogspot.com/2008/0 6/morat-triumph-of-free-will.html

Posted by PeterMelzer | Report as abusive
 

Surely this must be costing us, the tax payer, more? Contractors are paid ore than the military and also their companies make a big profit… Sounds like a good place to get those savings Mr Gates

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive
 

First we outsource jobs, manufacturing and now military. The first two did not work and put us into this economic disaster And now the military. These politicians are burying America and it is time to hold them responsible when we go to the voting booths. Wake up America.

Posted by Columbo | Report as abusive
 

Hey “We the people ” when is enough going to be enough.
We need another revolution. Only at the voting boths. No more two bit lawyers running for office or former bankers or actors. Enough acting like good polititians. Get people that care about the American people.

People wake up!

Posted by josephhpesoj | Report as abusive
 

machiavelli warned in his book the Prince of dangers of mercinaries published in 1532 America should not be been in Iraq in the first place

Posted by nome222 | Report as abusive
 

Contractors are not the end of the world, they are the beginning of a new one.

The military is a broad sword. It is there to destroy targets, to take over and hold key terrain. It is a tool not intially meant to nation build.

Our military has done a fine job. And now it is time for their focus and energy to leave Iraq.

Let us not believe that Iraq is going to be automatcially safe, for it still has a ways to go till it is a stable nation.

In the near term the ‘contractor’ is just another means to an end for political will. If it were not for them our government could not perform the mission that it now faces in Iraq as it goes forward with out our service members patrolling the streets.

Posted by zefmedina | Report as abusive
 

Does America rejoice blackening its image by passing, security responsibility that is now precarious to mercenaries who care too hoots for law and say hurray for the bucks in pocket.From the first day of war in Iraq it appears that that the powers in America decided to make Iraq look more like a Hollywood set than a place where civilization nearly dawned,recorded in history.Nothing can work in Iraq till all local stakeholders are brought together and assured of economic reconstruction assurance with UN taking the lead.

Posted by subrashankar | Report as abusive
 

subrashankar,
I completely agreed with your post until I read ‘UN taking the lead.’

The UN? Seriously? The UN is the slowest moving, most bloated entity in the world. Iran/Korea sanctions anyone? The UN has no power and is a joke. UN peacekeepers just a few days ago stood idly by while a small battle was fought.

To be sure, the Iraq war is a mess and will certainly explode in Obama’s face. Just pray for the people that will be in the way…

Posted by BHOlied | Report as abusive
 

The correct term is mercenary.
M E R C E N A R Y

Posted by Toutatis2012 | Report as abusive
 

If we had leadership those troops rotating back would have priority one in getting those private jobs.It would not take rocket science to give them temporary military leaves of absence for up to two years and return to their duties.It the Erik Prince’s choke ;GREAT

!

Posted by Frank121629 | Report as abusive
 

Mercenaries have always been dangerous to put mix with the normal army. Besides, they are working based on you paying them, not fighting for one’s country. Mercenaries are also partially what led to the downfall of the Roman Empire because of the declining quality of its armies.

Posted by cavvy1211 | Report as abusive
 

VyRus calls America the worlds largets terrorist nation. The world image of America has fallen (and perhaps we have) since we set free Europe and the Pacific. How should a nation respond to terrorism? Please give us the answers we apparently don’t have.

Posted by sbzippy | Report as abusive
 

The fact of the situation is that contractors allow nations to hide losses in wartime…a nation’s public react with far less attachment to the loss of a dozen civilian contractors than they do to the loss of a single soldier. Contractors are a more evolved form of mercenary, with the nations that hire them foolishly believing they can control all actions of their hirelings while remaining detached from accountability of their actions…The fact is, these companies will be around more and more in this new world politic.

Posted by ShawnPriest | Report as abusive
 

You are all Mistaken-

Mercenaries…. All of you are reading too much Scahill.
Most all of you writing these comments have not been on the ground and smelled the air. These guys are protecting US Diplomats, USAID in a non permissive enivronment. They are US Military Veterans doing a difficult and dangerous job. They are retired federal agents and Police from small towns around the USA. All trying to make a living and raising kids, taking care of families back home, risking getting killed. Paying 1000 per month Health insurance. 1000 per month Life Insurance, and getting taxed over 30 percent of salary. Away from home most of the year. There are always some bad examples, in all professions. The facts are, the DOS does not have nearly enough agents to protect the staff at even one US EMB. Instead of complaining, why dont you all put your mental energy together and come up with some good solutions???

That is all.

Posted by SARC | Report as abusive
 

It’s amusing that there is so much negative press about contractors since a large majority of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are US military-affiliated. These contractors are either combat veterans or are current Reserve/ National Guard Soldiers. It is common practice for a Soldier to do a tour or two in uniform then come back the next year and do the same job as a contractor for at least double the pay. For many of these Soldiers it is the highest paying job they can get after they leave the service and contracting companies actively recruit former or current military.

Posted by naanap23 | Report as abusive
 

As for those who claim to believe the U.S. is the ‘biggest terrorist country in the world’, I have conversed with those who share your ideology and have discovered the following: about 1% of you are shamefully ignorant and thus believe what you claim; the other 99% of you are consciously choosing to be dishonest, expressing views that you know are absurd in order to achieve social acceptance within various (largely academic and urban) social groups (i.e. you’re just trying to look cool, which you have chosen to prioritize over honesty).

In either case, you are among the most likely people in American society to suffer failure after failure — trapped in a prison you built for yourselves, pounding on the locked door, doing everything you can to forget about the key sitting in your pocket.

Posted by GregRoss | Report as abusive
 

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
 

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