Info to contemplate on Iraq

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 04:14 PM

In addition to the incredible lack of preparation for the occupation, and the remarkably dubious motivations for invading at all, there's the question of how we are conducting this Iraq "war" or "occupation" or, if you believe the administration, "attempt to foment freedom-loving democracy by means of military action and political posturing."

Specifically, there's the question of private contractors in almost every arena in Iraq.

From a Washington Post story dated today:

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.
In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. MPRI, a unit of L-3 Communications, has about 500 employees working on 12 contracts, including providing mentors to the Iraqi Defense Ministry for strategic planning, budgeting and establishing its public affairs office. Titan, another L-3 division, has 6,500 linguists in the country.

The Pentagon's latest estimate "further demonstrates the need for Congress to finally engage in responsible, serious and aggressive oversight over the questionable and growing U.S. practice of private military contracting," said Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has been critical of the military's reliance on contractors.
Those figures do not include subcontractors, which could substantially grow the figure
Three years into the war, the headcount represents one of the Pentagon's most concrete efforts so far toward addressing the complexities and questions raised by the large numbers of civilians who have flooded into Iraq to work. With few industry standards, the military and contractors have sometimes lacked coordination, resulting in friendly fire incidents, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year.

"It takes a great deal of vigilance on the part of the military commander to ensure contractor compliance," said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you're trying to win hearts and minds and the contractor is driving 90 miles per hour through the streets and running over kids, that's not helping the image of the American army. The Iraqis aren't going to distinguish between a contractor and a soldier."

The census gives military commanders insight into the contractors operating in their region and the type of work they are doing, Wittkoff said. "It helps the combatant commanders have a better idea of . . . food and medical requirements they may need to provide to support the contractors," she said.

Just an observation from me, a non-expert on free markets and war:  If you are fighting a major military action in a hostile theater, do you really benefit from having 100,000 contractors, not to mention a number of subcontractors likely to equal or exceed that number, running around the arena with varying levels of competence, ethics, morals, combat training, and motives?

Not to mention the fact that "CentCom" had to undertake a specific audit just to find out how many contractors there are--does that tell you how organized this supposedly crucial "world war III" effort really is?

On the other hand, it certainly does explain where the hundreds of billions of dollars are going.  Who do you think makes more: a civilian contractor hired to work in a highly dangerous combat area, or a member of the U.S. military trained to do roughly the same job?