By Keith Johnson
Most United States troops may have left Iraq, but the occupation continues in ways that are far less transparent to the American people. An army of bureaucrats and mercenaries still occupies the Middle East country, despite claims from the White House that the Iraqis are free.
Late last year, Obama greeted returning veterans at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and announced that the eight-year war had come to an end. “Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done,” Obama proclaimed. “Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis.”
Though that may have been enough to satisfy some, Obama’s formal announcement of troop draw-downs hardly qualifies as a complete withdrawal. In its largest diplomatic mission since the end of World War II, the State Department now commands more than 16,000 civilian employees at four major diplomatic centers and seven other facilities throughout the country, as well as 5,500 armed mercenaries under contract by private security firms.
Of course, these are just official numbers that the government has been kind enough to divulge. The true proliferation of “private contractors”—a euphemism for mercenaries— working in the region is anyone’s guess.
In its latest budget request, the Pentagon asked for $2.9 billion for what it calls “Post Operation New Dawn (OND)/Iraq Activities.” According to a February 13 report by Wired, “The Pentagon’s briefing materials provide little explanation for the expense. ‘Finalizing transition’ is the ostensible mission the Pentagon wants funded. Its remaining office in Baghdad, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, will get cash to ‘continue security assistance and security cooperation’ with the Iraqi military “and amounts for the reset of equipment redeploying from Iraq and the theater of operations.”
During an interview with Russian news outlet RT, Michael O’Brien, author of the book America’s Failure in Iraq, was asked how he anticipated these funds would be used.
“To pay for security contractors, which are nothing more than mercenaries,” he said. “These are civilians employed by defense contractors in our country. This is just an expansion of defense contractors selling weapons systems, ships, planes, rifles and bullets. Now we’ve expanded that to include warm bodies. A lot of it is probably covert. There have to be continued military operations going on over there that we are not being told about—military operations being conducted by Americans in civilian clothes.”
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, as many as 1,455,590 Iraqis have been slaughtered, along with 4,801 American troops, according to the websites justforeignpolicy.org and icasualties.org respectively.
Excluded from this death toll are the hundreds of Americans who have lost their lives under the employ of civilian contractors, a significant number that goes largely under-reported. Last year alone, private contractor deaths in Iraq were almost on par with those of American troops—41 compared with 54, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In Afghanistan in 2011, contractor deaths exceeded those of American troops.
According to a February 12, 2012 article for The New York Times, entitled “War Risk Shifts to Contractors,” Rob Nordland writes, “Last year, at least 430 employees of American contractors were reported killed in Afghanistan: 386 working for the Defense Department, 43 for the United States Agency for International Development and one for the State Department, according to data provided by the American Embassy in Kabul and publicly available in part from the United States Department of Labor.”
This reporter recently spoke with Marcie Hascall Clark, whose husband Merlin—a former U.S. Navy explosives ordnance disposal expert—was injured in 2003 while working for an American contractor. Mrs. Clark now runs the American Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan website, where she tracks contractor deaths and injuries, as well as reports on corrupt private contracting firms and insurance carriers that have failed to live up to their obligations.
For the past seven years, the Clarks have been fighting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability payments and medical compensation.
Keith Johnson in an investigative journalist and host of the Revolt of the Plebs radio program.