Murphy's Law: Trust Will Cost You Extra

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July 5, 2009: One of the invented scandals in Iraq was the "excessive number of civilian contractors who were highly paid Americans". There were good reasons for this, but that sort of thing did not strike media executives as newsworthy.

The problem was one of trust. In Iraq, 20 percent of Iraqis are Sunni Arabs, who were behind the five year terror campaign to regain control of the country. Many of the Shia Arabs (60 percent of the population) were keen on establishing a religious dictatorship, and were hostile to the American presence. Only the Kurds, and some smaller minorities (20 percent of the population) were trustworthy.

Thus in Iraq, 17 percent of the contractors were Americans, 44 percent were from other countries (Africa, South Asia and South America, for the most part). Only 39 percent were Iraqis. In Afghanistan, where less than ten percent of the population (a segment of the Pushtun minority) could be considered untrustworthy, there were far more trustworthy Afghans to hire. Thus 8 percent of the contractors were American, 7 percent were from other countries, and 85 percent were Afghans.

There were other reasons for the high percentage of Americans in Iraq. For example, there  was the need for highly skilled, and reliable, security personnel to protect Iraqi and American officials (especially VIPs). These men are expensive (often they were former commandos). There was also a problem with contractors with technical skills. Most of the available Iraqis with these skills were Sunni Arabs. So you needed more American contractors with these skills.

About 20 percent of the money spent on the Iraq war went to contractors, who represented half the American force there. This was nothing new, as the same ratio was found in 1990s Balkans peacekeeping operations. Normally, most of the civilian contractors are locals, who are paid at local wage rates (or usually a bit better, in order to attract the best people). Thus in Iraq, 83 percent of the contractors were from Iraq, or other developing country with low wage rates. But the U.S. forces paid better, and had no trouble hiring all the people it needed.

 


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