A drawdown of contractors in Iraq
US commanders there may find it hard to quickly reduce the use of almost 150,000 contractors.
American troops have a silent partner in Iraq: Tens of thousands of contractors who support their mission in unsung but critical ways, serving food, providing security, and cleaning bathrooms. But as President Obama reduces the American military presence there over the next year-and-a-half, US commanders face the challenge of weaning themselves off the contractors' services and sending them home.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, recently issued a directive asking his subordinate commanders to reduce the use of civilian contractors on at least 50 bases and small installations across Iraq and, where possible, provide employment to Iraqis instead.
Mr. Obama announced last week that all US troops would leave Iraq by mid-2010.
Over the course of the next year or so, most of the 150,000 civilian contractors working in Iraq – more than the total number of US troops there now – will have to leave Iraq and return to Peru, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines as well as the US.
"This initiative supports our desired end state of a stable, sovereign, and prosperous Iraq," General Odierno wrote in a directive dated Jan. 31. "It's the right thing to do, so let's move out."
Soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US forces found they needed a corps of contractors to provide a number of services, from security to transportation to construction and translation. Over the years, the number of contractors ballooned to as many as 200,000. Controversies surrounding their role in Iraq began to emerge, as in the case of security firm Blackwater USA.
But most contractors are doing work that the military doesn't have the resources to do.
There are now 150,000 contractors in Iraq, comprising about 39,000 Americans, 70,000 "third country nationals," and 37,000 Iraqis. A little more than half provide support to the more than 50 American bases and installations in Iraq, and they are the ones Odierno wants to phase out. His directive asks for a 5 percent reduction in the use of contractors each quarter. Many will simply be terminated as the need for services like cleaning bathrooms and serving food ends with the US departure. But Iraqi security forces will take over other bases and the need for those jobs there will continue.
Whenever appropriate, the remaining contracting jobs should be given to Iraqis, says Odierno's directive.
"Employment of Iraqis not only saves money but it also strengthens the Iraqi economy and helps eliminate the root causes of the insurgency – poverty and lack of economic opportunity," the directive says.