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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: Iraq's Other Army

Council on Foreign Relations

September 25, 2007
Prepared by: Greg Bruno

A shooting incident in a busy Baghdad square has galvanized efforts to bring accountability to private security firms operating in Iraq and raises new questions (Economist) about Iraq’s ability to run its own affairs. Following the incident, in which guards from the U.S. security company Blackwater allegedly killed at least eleven Iraqis, Iraq’s interior ministry sought to revoke (WSJ) the firm’s operating license. The U.S. State Department announced an investigation (Reuters), and U.S. and Iraqi leaders are expected to discuss the row (TIME) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. But the incident comes at an awkward time for Washington, with officials planning a limited drawdown later this year and concerns lingering over manpower.

More generally, the blowup over Blackwater refocuses attention on the role of international security contractors in Iraq. The picture is messy one. Thousands of contracts to private firms ensure a wide array (PDF) of services, from cooking meals for soldiers to maintaining equipment. An estimated 180,000 individuals from the United States, Iraq, and other countries make up this private army of contractors, a force that outnumbers (LAT) the entire U.S. military presence. Roughly thirty-thousand of these mercenaries conduct security missions. Last year Congress passed legislation intended to expand military laws to include private contractors, but the Pentagon has yet to publish (PDF) guidance on “how the new law is to be implemented." Complicating enforcement is a 2004 order (PDF) drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority that specifically exempts private security firms from Iraqi prosecution.

Oversight of security companies generates little notice in Washington. During congressional hearings September 10 and 11, not a single lawmaker asked a question about the performance of these security contractors, which are composed mainly of former military Special Forces.

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