Military contractors are a fact of life in Iraq - doing everything from protecting diplomats and those involved in the reconstruction process to delivering supplies.
In September of 2008, there were some 160,000 of them working for the Department of Defense alone, today that number is closer to 100.000. Just over 50,000 are Iraqi nationals - but nearly 28,000 are U.S. citizens. And their service comes at a high price.
I'm not talking about the monetary cost of contracting out, (on which there has been a protracted debate over whether hiring them is more cost efficient than having troops do the same work.) I'm talking about the price that's paid in blood.
The Special Inpector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) notes that 25 contractor deaths were reported in the first quarter of 2010, bringing the total number of contractors killed since the Department of Labor began keeping figures in March of 2003, to 1,471.
Compare that to a total of 3,899 U.S. military deaths since the start of the war and you begin to better understand the significant price contractors are paying. In fact, according to SIGIR, In January of 2009, contractor deaths actually exceeded those of U.S. troops for the first time.
Those familiar with the debate like to argue that the U.S. has always relied on contractors, and they would be right, but the U.S. has never relied on hired help in conflict zones to the extent that is does today.
SIGIR estimated contractor contributions to prior U.S. conflicts and found that the U.S. utilized the services of one contractor per 24 members of the military during World War I; to 1 to 7 in World War II; 1 to 5 in Vietnam, to a projected estimate of 1 contractor to every 0.7 members of the military in Iraq by this August. In other words, more contractors than military personnel. And that estimate is CONSERVATIVE.
It doesn't take into account contractors working on something called LOGCAP which is a fancy military acronym for logistics contracts – which include delivering food to bases – under which some 190,000 additional contractors are hard at work, and sometimes dying when doing the job.