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.