Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

5,500 Mercs to Protect U.S. Fortresses in Iraq

By Spencer Ackerman  at Wired’s Danger Room

In September 2007, Blackwater guards working for the U.S. State Department killed 17 Iraqis at Baghdad’s Nisour Square, one of the most controversial episodes in the long war there. But State isn’t backing away from its mercs. With American troops scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, the ambassador to Iraq will become a de facto general of a huge, for-hire army — one larger than a U.S. Army heavy combat brigade.

During a Senate hearing today, John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the top U.S. civilian and military officials in Iraq to “be careful” about “replacing a military presence with a private mercenary presence.” A report that the committee released yesterday and announced today explained why: the State Department plans to field 5,500 private security contractors to protect up to 17,000 civilians working for the American government in Iraq.

The report barely goes into the composition of the emerging mercenary army, but since State has been so tight-lipped about its plans, it sheds new light on how diplomats will be protected after the military leaves Iraq at the end of the year. A force of 3,650 private security guards will be stationed at the huge Baghdad embassy. (The security firm SOC Inc. has a contract for protecting that embassy worth as much as $974 million.) It’ll be supplemented with mercs at four satellite installations: 600 in the Kurdish capitol of Irbil; 575 in Basra (the report says Baghdad, but it appears to be a misprint); and 335 each at Mosul and Kirkuk.

“Roughly four thousand of these will be third-country nationals serving as static perimeter security for the various installations,” the report states. In the past, private companies have hired non-westerners as guards, as they work cheaper than westerners do.

Non-Americans also make up a large proportion in a ginormous U.S. civilian presence. The Senate report anticipates a whopping “17,000 individuals” working for the Baghdad embassy. Only 650 of them will actually be diplomats, backstopped by “hundreds” of U.S. officials from the Treasury, Justice and Agriculture departments. But they’ll “mostly” be foreign employees “working as life-support and security contractors.” That is, the people who do the laundry, cook the food and clean the messes.

The size of the anticipated private-security force in Iraq is slightly lower than an estimate offered by a State official in June, but it’s much higher than the 2,700 security contractors employed in Iraq right now. And aside from the static security stationed at those five State Department installations, they’ll be operating at the “15 different sites” that State plans on operating, “including 3 air hubs, 3 police training centers… and 5 Office of Security Cooperation sites.”

At today’s hearing, both Amb. James Jeffrey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of American forces in Iraq, endorsed a 2011 troop withdrawal and a large U.S. diplomatic mission. That leaves State with its merc army to provide protection.

Those contractors will be “registered with the Iraqi authorities,” Jeffrey insisted, and “under the direct supervision of our security personnel,” the State contractor-oversight officials who’ll be “riding in every convoy” — a check against future Nisour Squares Please see the original here at Wired’s Danger Room

February 1, 2011 - Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Private Security Contractor, Safety and Security Issues, State Department | , , ,

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