|The Defense Base Act Workmans Compensation Blog
Death of a Contractor
Dan Halpern Rolling Stone
Business has been booming since May, when Paul Bremer, the man sent by President
Bush to run the Coalition Provisional Authority, gave foreign investors the right to take
100 percent of their profits out of Iraq, tax-free. "Iraq," Bremer declared, "is open for
business." The country became an enormous piggy bank busted wide open. Small-
time contractors like Ultra Services began to flood into Iraq, but unlike Halliburton and
other corporate competitors, they had no security convoys to protect them -- they were
on their own. It was about as open a season as seasons get; the cash was just there
to be carted off, palletfuls of fresh $100 bills airlifted in from the United States. "I've
never seen a more corrupt environment than Iraq was under Bremer and the CPA,"
says one private contractor with decades of experience in war zones. "They had no idea
what they were doing. The system was just about as perfectly set up for bribery and
kickbacks as it possibly could be."
In Outsourced US Wars Contractor Deaths Top 1,000
By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON, July 3 (Reuters) - The death toll for private contractors in the U.S. wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan has topped 1,000, a stark reminder of the risks run by civilians
working with the military in roles previously held by soldiers.
A further 13,000 contractors have been wounded in the two separate wars led by the
United States against enemies who share fundamentalist Islamic beliefs and the hit-
and-run tactics that drain conventional armies.
The casualty toll is based on figures the U.S. Department of Labor provided to Reuters
in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act and on locally gathered
The department said it had recorded 990 deaths - 917 in Iraq and 73 in Afghanistan - by
the end of March. Since then, according to incident logs tallied by Reuters in Baghdad
and Kabul, at least 16 contractors have died in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
Those killed in Iraq between March 31 and today included four contractors from the
Philippines killed in a rocket strike on Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone
compound, a frequent target of attacks.
The Labor Department's statistics put the number of wounded in Iraq between March 1,
2003 and March 31, 2007 as 10,569. The corresponding figure for Afghanistan, from
September 2001 to March 2007, is 2,428.
Deaths and injuries among the growing ranks of civilians working in war zones are
tracked on the basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, which
all U.S. contracting companies and subcontractors must take out for the civilians they
employ outside the United States.
In Iraq, their number is estimated to be close to 130,000 -- not much less than the
157,000 U.S. troops presently deployed to the country. Their work ranges from driving
fuel trucks, cooking meals and cleaning toilets to servicing advanced weapons
systems and guarding senior U.S. officials.
The contractor death toll compares with 3,577 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and 342 in
Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. That means that on
average, since the two conflicts began in 2001 and 2003 respectively, one civilian
contractor is killed for every four members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
STILL MORE APPLICANTS THAN JOBS
Despite the risks, there is no shortage of those wanting to work in the war zones, lured
by high pay and, in some cases, a sense of adventure.
"There are more applicants than there are jobs," said Doug Brooks, president of the
International Peace Operations Association, a trade group for more than 30 private
"That's been the case from the beginning and it is still true, even though pay has gone
down because there is a lot of competition."
Neither the Pentagon nor any other U.S. government agency keeps a precise tally on
the number of private security companies active in war zones - a fact that is drawing
increasing complaints from Congressional critics who say there is not enough
oversight and little accountability.
By some estimates, the number of private security companies in Iraq and Afghanistan
has swollen to almost 300, both U.S. and foreign corporations. One of the richest
contracts awarded since the U.S. invaded Iraq went to Aegis, a British firm involved in
Contrary to common perceptions, the majority of civilian contractors in the war zones
are not Americans - and foreigners have done most of the dying as the U.S. accelerated
outsourcing functions previously performed by soldiers.
The Labor Department declined to give details of the nationalities of the contractors it
listed as killed or wounded, saying that doing so would "constitute an unwarranted
invasion of personal privacy" under the U.S. Privacy Act.
But at a Congressional hearing in May, Joseph McDermott, the Assistant Inspector
General for Iraq, quoted Labor Department statistics as saying that of 900-plus
contractors killed by the end of April, 224 were U.S. citizens.
Officials say the majority of contractors are Iraqis and people from developing countries
as far apart as Chile and Nepal, Colombia and India, Fiji and El Salvador. Filipinos
make up one of the largest single groups.
U.S. troops outnumbered in Iraq — by contractors
By T Christian Miller La Times
New U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to
carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation.
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
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
The numbers include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about
118,000 Iraqis — all employed in Iraq by U.S. tax dollars, according to the most recent
The array of private workers promises to be a factor in debates on a range of policy
issues, including the privatization of military jobs and the number of Iraqi refugees
allowed to resettle in the U.S.
But there are also signs that even those mounting numbers may not capture the full
picture. Private security contractors, who are hired to protect government officials and
buildings, were not fully counted in the survey, according to industry and government
Continuing uncertainty over the numbers of armed contractors drew special criticism
from military experts.
"We don't have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That's dangerous for our country,"
said William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon "is
hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that's obscene."
Although private companies have played a role in conflicts since the American
Revolution, the U.S. has relied more on contractors in Iraq than in any other war,
according to military experts.
Contractors perform functions including construction, security and weapons system
Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting
rather than on other tasks.
"The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter," said Gary Motsek,
the assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense who oversees contractors.
"Fundamentally, they're supporting the mission as required."
But critics worry that troops and their missions could be jeopardized if contractors,
functioning outside the military's command and control, refuse to make deliveries of
vital supplies under fire.
At one point in 2004, for example, U.S. forces were put on food rations when drivers
balked at taking supplies into a combat zone.
Adding an element of potential confusion, no single agency keeps track of the number
or location of contractors.
In response to demands from Congress, the U.S. Central Command began a census
last year of the number of contractors working on U.S. and Iraqi bases to determine
how much food, water and shelter was needed.
That census, provided to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, shows
about 130,000 contractors and subcontractors of different nationalities working at U.S.
and Iraqi military bases.
However, U.S. military officials acknowledged that the census did not include other
government agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the
Last month, USAID reported about 53,000 Iraqis employed under U.S. reconstruction
contracts, doing jobs such as garbage pickup and helping to teach democracy. In
interviews, agency officials said an additional 300 Americans and foreigners worked as
contractors for the agency.
State Department officials said they could not provide the department's number of
contractors. Of about 5,000 people affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, about 300
are State Department employees. The rest are a mix of other government agency
workers and contractors, many of whom are building the new embassy.
"There are very few of us, and we're way undermanned," said one State Department
official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We have significant shortages of people.
It's been that way since before [the war], and it's still that way."
The companies with the largest number of employees are foreign firms in the Middle
East that subcontract to KBR, the Houston-based oil services company, according to
the Central Command database. KBR, once a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., provides
logistics support to troops, the single largest contract in Iraq.
Middle Eastern companies, including Kulak Construction Co. of Turkey and Projects
International of Dubai, supply labor from Third World countries to KBR and other U.S.
companies for menial work on U.S. bases and rebuilding projects. Foreigners are
used instead of Iraqis because of fears that insurgents could infiltrate projects.
KBR is by far the largest employer of Americans, with nearly 14,000 U.S. workers. Other
large employers of Americans in Iraq include New York-based L-3 Communications,
which holds a contract to provide translators to troops, and ITT Corp., a New York
engineering and technology firm.
The most controversial contractors are those working for private security companies,
including Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Erinys. They guard sensitive sites and provide
protection to U.S. and Iraqi government officials and businessmen.
Security contractors draw some of the sharpest criticism, much of it from military policy
experts who say their jobs should be done by the military. On several occasions, heavily
armed private contractors have engaged in firefights when attacked by Iraqi insurgents.
Others worry that the private security contractors lack accountability. Although scores of
troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security
contractors have faced legal charges.
The number of private security contractors in Iraq remains unclear, despite Central
Command's latest census. The Times identified 21 security companies in the Central
Command database, deploying 10,800 men.
However, the Defense Department's Motsek, who monitors contractors, said the
Pentagon estimated the total was 6,000.
Both figures are far below the private security industry's own estimate of about 30,000
private security contractors working for government agencies, nonprofit organizations,
media outlets and businesses.
Industry officials said that private security companies helped reduce the number of
troops needed in Iraq and provided jobs to Iraqis — a benefit in a country with high
"A guy who is working for a [private security company] is not out on the street doing
something inimical to our interests," said Lawrence Peter, director of the Private
Security Company Assn. of Iraq.
Not surprisingly, Iraqis make up the largest number of civilian employees under U.S.
contracts. Typically, the government contracts with an American firm, which then
subcontracts with an Iraqi firm to do the job.
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a contractors' trade
group, said the number of Iraqis reflected the importance of the reconstruction and
economic development efforts to the overall U.S. mission in Iraq.
"That's not work that the government does or has ever done…. That's work that is going
to be done by companies and to some extent by" nongovernmental organizations,
Soloway said. "People tend to think that these are contractors on the battlefield, and
The Iraqis have been the most difficult to track. As recently as May, the Pentagon told
Congress that 22,000 Iraqis were employed by its contractors. But the Pentagon
number recently jumped to 65,000 — a result of closer inspection of contracts, an
The total number of Iraqis employed under U.S. contracts is important, in part because
it may influence debate in Congress regarding how many Iraqis will be allowed to
come to the U.S. to escape violence in their homeland.
This year, the U.S. planned to cap that number at 7,000 a year. To date, however, only a
few dozen Iraqis have been admitted, according to State Department figures.
Kirk Johnson, head of the List Project, which seeks to increase the admission of Iraqis,
said that the U.S. needed to provide a haven to those who worked most closely with
"We all say we are grateful to these Iraqis," Johnson said. "How can we be the only
superpower in the world that can't implement what we recognize as a moral
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