By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Security Watch
In hopes of making good on a campaign promise just months before the November elections, President Barack Obama successfully oversaw the last of combat troops depart from Iraq just a few weeks shy of the 31 August deadline. While 50,000 soldiers will remain in Iraq as ‘advisors,’ private security contractors will likely more than double in the country to provide personnel and convoy protection and train Iraqi police and other security forces.
A 12 July report issued by the Commission on Wartime Contracting (COWC) in Iraq and Afghanistan found that the presence of private military contractors in Iraq- companies like Blackwater/Xe, Triple Canopy and Dyncorp – will increase in number as US military forces complete their exit from Iraq by 31 December 2011.
Governance of the Iraqi occupation has slowly been transitioning from Pentagon to State Department control, and in a statement by commission chairmen, “Assuming no change in [the Department of State] mission, the department’s only realistic option for dealing with the U.S. military’s exit is to make much heavier use of contractors,” concluding that, “the department would need to more than double [the contractor] force to 6,000 to 7,000 people to handle its needs in the future.” That figure is compared to the current “2,700 private security personnel in Iraq to augment its own diplomatic security force.”
A more expensive footprint
Indeed, without private contractors, the Department of State finds itself in something of a conundrum.Defense News aptly noted that the State Department “appears to have little choice [as] it lacks its own force of personnel to fly helicopters, disarm bombs or provide dozens of other services that military personnel now provide [especially when] the military is scheduled to reduce its Iraq footprint to 50,000 troops in August and be out of that country by the end of next year.”
And now that this has already happened – and ahead of schedule – the demand for private military and security personnel is already ramping up as troops pull out.
“Given the broad military mission the U.S. has, coupled with the lack of a draft, there is no doubt we actually need more, not less, private military contractors. The recent news about the contractor force that will be left in Iraq is a perfect example of how we seem to be substituting private military contractors for our regular military. We’re not really leaving Iraq – we’re changing our official presence there,” Fouad Pervez, PhD student in International Relations at Georgetown University and contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, told ISN Security Watch.
By its own standards, the COWC report made further conclusions after making concessions concerning the development of the Iraqi government and its ability to transform the country into a stable, functioning state:
“Unless and until the Iraqi government develops suitable capabilities for support, increased contracting by [the Department of State] would entail great increases in expenditures, challenges of executing and overseeing contracts, and possibilities for unneeded and wasteful spending. In addition, inadequately staffed and resourced oversight could multiply opportunities for contractor mistakes or misconduct that might alienate Iraqi opinion and undermine U.S. policy objectives.”
Just three days after the Commission’s report, the Office of General Inspector in the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperationblacklisted 146 companies and contractors for submitting to it falsified documents for operation.
In June 2010, vehement critic of the private military and security industry, Jeremy Scahill reported that since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, “there has been a 23% increase in the number of ‘Private Security Contractors’ working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan,” citing statistics provided by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
In a press release, the COWC stated that: “Fragmentary data – the best the government has – suggest that at least a third of the roughly 200,000 contractor employees in Iraq and Afghanistan work for subcontractors. Because the federal government has no direct contractual relationship with subcontractors, it has limited visibility into who they are and what they are doing. Prime contractors are legally responsible for managing subcontractors, but the primes’ internal controls and the effectiveness of federal oversight have often been inadequate.”
And this will likely affect public opinion of the American presence in Iraq.
“The overall problem [has to do with] PMCs and how [they] affect foreign policy. The bigger problem isn’t [companies like] Blackwater, it’s the mission. PMCs give political leaders an easy out because they are rarely held accountable for their deaths (as compared with U.S. military deaths). This allows a distortion of public opinion on conflict. If the public doesn’t see the face of war (which is precisely what happens when you privatize the conflict, since the press doesn’t really cover PMCs), war can continue when it would have been seriously challenged and possibly halted before due to public pressure,” Pervez said.