The United States is
rapidly replacing foreign contractors in Iraq with Iraqis. Currently, about
half the 163,000 civilian contractors there are locals. Some 28,000 are
Americans, with the rest coming from dozens of different countries. The U.S.
wants to have most of the contractors
hired locally as soon as possible. This will save the United States a lot of
money, as the Iraqis will be paid according to prevailing wages in Iraq. That's
less than half what most of the foreign contractors are paid.
The new Status of Forces agreement
(which determines what U.S. troops can do, and who will prosecute those who
misbehave) takes immunity (from the local legal system) away from the
contractors. The U.S. has Status of
Forces agreements in all countries where American troops are stationed. In
Iraq, the only problem will be for VIP security details, who are liable to get
into gun battles with attackers when there are civilians about, and it's
uncertain if Iraqi courts could be fair and unprejudiced. This may get
interesting, as the VIP bodyguards can get good jobs in other parts of the
world, but the VIPs don't want to go unprotected in a place like Iraq.
Contractors are used by the military
because they are cheaper than soldiers. This is especially true in Iraq, where
most of the contractors are unskilled labor from countries with very low pay
scales. These civilians still make several times what they could back home, if
they could find a job back home. Foreigners were hired initially because it was
too dangerous to hire Iraqis. First, there was the loyalty problem, and then
there was the risk of terrorists threatening, or killing, Iraqis working on
American bases. There were some Iraqis working on those bases, mainly
interpreters and some key specialists. And these Iraqis faced constant danger
from terrorists. This policy greatly reduced the terrorist attacks inside
American bases. There were only a few in over five years, all carried out by
Iraqis who had access to the bases.
For the contractors, there is some
danger in Iraq, but the chances of getting killed or wounded were a third of
the rate for the troops, and the troops had a casualty rate that was about a third of what it was for previous
wars (like Vietnam). Moreover, in the last year, combat casualties among
foreign contractors has come way down, to, like, hardly any.
Armies have always had civilians along,
to perform support functions. The historical term is "camp
followers." In times past, the ratio of civilians to soldiers was often
much higher, like eight civilians for every one soldier. Only the most
disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at their peak), kept the ratio
closer to one to one. That's the same ratio U.S. troops currently have,
although it was more like 90 civilians for every hundred troops during the
Surge Offensive last year.
When conscript armies became common in
the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of those civilians
with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies are going
all-volunteer, it's reverting to the old days, where it was cheaper to have
civilians perform a lot of support jobs.
In Iraq, most of the civilian
contractors work in the well defended bases, and most of the contractor
casualties are among those (about a quarter of the total) who do security or
transportation jobs that take them outside the wire. But even those have a
lower casualty rate than the combat troops. For the really dangerous work, the
troops are used. But working in a combat zone is still dangerous, no matter
what your work clothes look like.