Left behind in Iraq: thousands of contractors
With the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year looking more likely, absent an agreement to extend legal immunity, a large contingent of U.S. contractors will still remain facing their own legal and logistical ambiguities and challenges.
The complexity of the situation is not lost on top officials at the State Department who are busy preparing to assume control of every U.S. responsibility in Iraq – including contracting operations.
“The State Department is doing something that quite frankly we have never done before, this is not going to be easy and I think we all understand that,” Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides told CNN.
“We owe it to the families (who have lost loved ones in Iraq), and to the taxpayers to get this transition done correctly,” he added.
For years, thousands of civilian contractors have worked in Iraq operating in a variety of military and support functions. But they have always lacked the same criminal immunity from Iraqi laws that the U.S. military enjoys under existing agreements between the two countries. And for the most part, they operated under the purview of the Defense Department.
While contractors would be subject to the Iraqi criminal justice system as they always have, ambiguities will still exist as to how they would also be held accountable under U.S. law if a situation similar to the 2007 incident involving contractors working for Blackwater (now operating as Xe Services) were to occur.
The issues surrounding their presence in Iraq are likely to become only more complex when U.S. troops do pull out and leave the oversight of the entire contracting force to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
“What the State Department does is diplomacy, and you’re going to have the State Department managing contractors that are going to be flying helicopters, driving MRAP’s, medevac-ing wounded personnel,” Richard Fontaine, and expert on contracting issues with the Center for a New American Security, told CNN.
“This is the kind of thing that the State Department has very little in-house experience in managing,” he said