Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 4, 2007

THE 'COALITION OF THE BILLING'....The Washington Post's Steve Fainaru had a fascinating item a couple of weeks ago in which he detailed the extent of the work private military contractors are doing in Iraq. The piece described an environment in which more than 100 private security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, providing protection for top administration officials.

Fainaru didn't nail down just how big a private force we're talking about, but today, the LA Times' T. Christian Miller adds some surprising details.

The number of U.S.-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 U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Some of this is admittedly a little fuzzy. As James Joyner noted, a majority of these civilians working in Iraq are, in fact, Iraqis. What's more, they're taking on construction and infrastructure duties, not security roles.

I'd add, however, that the 180,000 civilians also doesn't fully include thousands of Americans, financed by public U.S. funds, who are providing private security. How many thousands? According to the Times piece, somewhere between 6,000 and 30,000, all of whom are operating outside the chain of command and independent of Iraqi law.

That these ambiguities exist at all underscores part of the problem. No one seems to know how many contractors are there, what their responsibilities are, and/or how many of them are being killed.

Ultimately, uncertainties aside, it's still the biggest military outsourcing project anyone's ever seen. As Brookings' Peter Singer concluded, the numbers of private contractors "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."

Steve Benen 4:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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The NYT:the Labor Department, which processes death and injury claims for those working as United States government contractors in Iraq.

According to this
at least 917 have died as of May 2007.

Posted by: TJM on July 4, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

The NY Times hints at another problem w/ this arrangement:


Some of these folks will come home w/ physical and psychological traumas. Who will take care of them? Certainly not the VA. Will private insurance cover them? For how long?

We'll hear about this issue again

Posted by: Mikey on July 4, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

at least 917 have died as of May 2007.

And out of that many, how many are American mercs or security guys, or whatever you want to call them? That's the thing about this issue-- it's either a big deal, or it isn't.

I feel sorry for those security guys taking casualties no matter what, though, because it looks like no matter what, it's turning out to be at least dozens, maybe hundreds of them have died in Iraq. They went there thinking they were making a lot of money doing a super-cool job, but instead they just got dead and would have been better off staying in the U.S. doing something less interesting. Same goes for the guys driving trucks who got kidnapped.

Posted by: Swan on July 4, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Light at NYU has been talking about this for years, even before the Iraq War. The federal government under Clinton started to contract out all kinds of work because they could claim to be shrinking government. Now, under Bush, it's spread throughout DoD and into our war efforts.

Posted by: b on July 4, 2007 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Mercs and contractors, and robots, oh boy!

Who needs a declaration of war? Bush can just call Halliburton, and then tell the USAF to lease planes and pilots to them for the Iran attack. Pakistan can supply the nukes - for a price.

Like George III, maybe Bush could hire some Hessians too.

Hell, let's go the whole way: hire the Vatican to do the inquisition on any terrorists we sweep up. The auto de fey would be a great climax for the DC Mall independence day fireworks.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR on July 4, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Jeremy Scahill @democracynow.org is following this as well "From Iraq and Afghanistan to the hurricane-ravaged streets of New Orleans to meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about responding to disasters in California, Blackwater now envisions itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations. Such power in the hands of one company, run by a neo-crusader bankroller of the president, embodies the "military-industrial complex" President Eisenhower warned against in 1961."

"Further privatizing the country's war machine - or inventing new back doors for military expansion with fancy names like the Civilian Reserve Corps - will represent a devastating blow to the future of American democracy." (at counterpunch.org 1/25/07--entitled
"Blackwater Inc. and the Privatization of the Bush War Machine.")

There is an inherent lack of accountability as well.

Posted by: consider wisely always on July 4, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Do these numbers include the slave labor we're using to remodel the baghdad palaces in preparation for our permanent presence?


Posted by: jhm on July 4, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

TJM: "According to this at least 917 have died as of May 2007."

For which Hallibuton has been duly compensated, no doubt.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on July 4, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

For which Hallibuton has been duly compensated, no doubt.
As compared to what the US pays Iraqi families, usually $2500 and up to $10,000 (TheTimes also chose to convey extraordinary cases where more than the usual cap of $2,500 was paid out, even though the cases were not said to be particularly egregious violations by US troops). Cars destroyed by US troops pay replacement value. It's always been about property rights.

Posted by: TJM on July 4, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

118,000 (out of the 180,000) Iraqis are being paid to help rebuild their own country. These are exactly the people who should be doing the infrastructure work over there, not our military. I think at this point you're trying to invent some kind of controversy where none exists.

Posted by: harry on July 4, 2007 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, harry, you completely managed to avoid even thinking about the point, much less addressing it in your comments here. Nice going!

Posted by: PaulB on July 4, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

What will happen when 6,000 to 30,000 'security personnel' come back to the United States after being used to operating outside of the law? Can this possibly be a good thing?

Posted by: DCBob on July 4, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

According to this at least 917 have died as of May 2007.

Headline in the IHT a few days ago had the number hitting 1,000.

Posted by: snicker-snack on July 5, 2007 at 6:47 AM | PERMALINK

Hoorah!! I can finally post a comment.

Posted by: Gandalf on July 5, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Blackwater just had 4 families of killed 'contractors' in court over talking about what their deceased were doing in Iraq. Public accountability on this isn't a joke - it doesn't exist.

Posted by: opit on July 5, 2007 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

So the Iraquis are supposed to admire and emulate the system which brought tens of thousands of mercenaries, who operate out of the control of any government, to its shores?
Yup, democracy, whiskey, sexy!

Posted by: Mooser on July 5, 2007 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Or, you could call it "The Coalition of the Shilling."

Let's not forget the Brits.

Most of the civilians live in the Green Zone where several mortars fall each night. Not only do they work in fear during the day, they sleep in fear at night.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on July 5, 2007 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

A friend of mine, a former British Army officer who's been giving talks to the US military on counter-insurgency strategy, says he's never seen anything like this reliance on mercenaries by a supposedly First World power in his life. This is normally what Third World dictators who don't trust their own people do.

Posted by: Stefan on July 5, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose you dipshits would prefer that combat troops be relegated to guard duty? Or that guarding US investments be left to native forces?
The day of cannon fodder is gone.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis on July 5, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

wallis: I suppose you dipshits would prefer that combat troops be relegated to guard duty?

why do "conservatives" always consider guarding freedom...

a chore?

Posted by: mr. irony on July 5, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

why do "conservatives" always consider guarding freedom...a chore?

Because like with picking up the dry cleaning and raising their children, "guarding freedom" is something conservatives prefer to hire others to do.

Posted by: Disputo on July 5, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK



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