Private Contractors Outnumber U.S. Troops in Iraq (But Not Really)

The L.A. Times is breathlessly pushing a story under the headline “Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq” and with the subhead “U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation.” The reality, though, is rather less remarkable.

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. 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.”

I respect Singer’s work in this field but he’s simply wrong here. Conflating mercenaries providing security services with domestic contract workers doing construction work, driving trucks, and the like is disingenuous.

The 180,000 civilians include 118,000 Iraqis. It’s not clear what the breakdown is; presumably, this does not include the police forces. But why wouldn’t the government hire local nationals in large numbers to help rebuild and secure the country?

Singer and I are in agreement, which I’ve noted numerous times since the war began, that hiring private trigger pullers that operate outside the chain of command and the laws of war is highly problematic. There are some real issues with the number of contractors we’re using in Iraq. The numbers are unprecedented even without inflating them but let’s not muddy the waters by doing so.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, Policing, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. cirby says:

    They had an article like this in the local alternative weekly, and it took careful reading to notice (in among all of the Blackwater references) that a lot of those civilian contractors did things like build bridges and install electric power.

  2. bill says:

    I thought the whole idea had been for years to do more of this infrastructure work with civilians if possible when not under fire etc.

    There hasnt been the old KP duty for years in the mmilitary. Most of the base type stuff is civilian.
    Most construction is civil once the mil part has been secured supposedly.

    You would want to use locals as much as possible for good will etc.

    I thought the idea was to use contractors to turn more people loose for actual military activities….on purpose and knowingly by the congress leadership.

    Althoug it wont make a difference as long as the Dems are intent on losing again and are actively trying to thwart winning. Just read on Dem sites and they openly state they cant allow Bush or the Repubs to win on this cause it makes them look bad. So they are intentionally being against all of the admins and military policy.

  3. Grewgills says:

    Bill,

    Just read on Dem sites and they openly state they cant allow Bush or the Repubs to win on this cause it makes them look bad. So they are intentionally being against all of the admins and military policy.

    Why don’t you post a few links to these Dem sites?
    If you can’t, I guess we’ll all know where you pulled that comment from.

    Nothing wrong with occasionally reminding everyone how many of us are over there sacrificing and how many of us are over there profiting (some both). Other than some of our civil liberties that is all the sacrifice that has been asked of the vast majority of us. Too many are in a rush to give up the former and cannot stand to hear the latter.