Security contractors in Iraq are a private bunch. They don't like media attention and they don't open their doors to many outsiders. But after a lot of talking and explaining, we were recently able to get an inside look at some security contractors in Iraq.
There are roughly 25,000 security contractors in the country. They spend much of their time providing security for the convoys that bring in raw materials and daily necessities for military bases around the country.
The 130,000 troops in Iraq need places to eat, to land aircraft and helicopters, and to sleep. Most of the materials for these activities need to be brought into Iraq. Supply convoys often drive up from Kuwait, through areas that are very hostile to the United States, especially as the convoys near Baghdad. The contractors get the job of maintaining security for on these journeys.
In the past, the army would have provided its own supplies along with the security for them. No longer.
The use of private contractors is part of a gradual trend that has been developing over the past 30 or 40 years. You could even argue this trend has been developing over the past 100 or 150 years. You have always had private contractors who have gone into battle, whether to maintain suits of armor or feed horses. But in Iraq, this is taking place on a much grander scale.
The contractors also provide security for high-level government officers in Iraq, an incredibly violent place now. If you are associated with the Iraqi or American governments, then you are a target. Some of best-qualified people to defend high-level officials are the security contractors, many of whom once served in the American, South African or Australian special forces.
The U.S. government won't say how much has been spent on private security contractors, but industry experts estimate the figure is in the tens of billions of dollars.
What's in it for the contractors? In a word, money. Security in Iraq is a dangerous job and it pays well. A contractor with a good level of skill can make $650 per day, perhaps more if they have a top flight job. This kind of money can provide a good standard of living for their families, perhaps puting their kids into a better school or moving them into a better house. And the contractors have insurance to make sure their families will be taken care of in the event they are killed.
The use of so many private contractors in Iraq has drawn fire from critics both here and abroad. The contractors justify their presence by explaining that it would be very consumptive of men and materials if the military had to do everything the contractors now do. You would probably see troop levels such that a conscription or draft would be required.
The use of more soldiers would expose more soldiers to death and more politicians to political heat. The way the contractors in Iraq look at it is that there is an economic and political cost equation. They are keeping the administration from paying a price for a larger number of soldier deaths or the need for a larger number of troops.
That's their take. What's yours?