The death toll of Americans killed in Iraq is much higher than commonly reported and may now exceed 5,000, based on Pentagon and U.S. Labor Department reports.
That's because official Pentagon statistics do not count the deaths of private contractors, who are playing a much bigger role in Iraq than in most previous wars.
Based on workers' compensation claims filed with the U.S. Labor Department, 1,001 contract employees had died in Iraq as of June.
Adding contractor deaths to the Pentagon's statistics gives a more realistic assessment of the war’s total impact.
As of late August, for example, the Pentagon was reporting that 3,047 soldiers had lost their lives in combat, with another 681 lives lost from noncombat incidents related to the war. In total, 3,728 U.S. soldiers have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
Adding in the 1,001 contractor deaths pushes the number of lives lost much higher – to 4,729.
Lawmakers and experts tell NewsMax there have probably been many more than 1,001 contractor deaths in Iraq, however, because many workers' families probably don't realize that they can file the claims.
This summer, according to the Houston Chronicle, Labor Department official Miranda Chiu wrote to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.: "The data show the number of cases reported to the department, not the number of injuries or deaths which occurred."
And subcontractors who aren't paid in U.S. dollars – most of the employees working in Iraq are not U.S. citizens – are naturally ineligible to file a workers' comp claim.
"Clearly, many of the subcontractors have not filed claims," Deborah Avant, an author and professor of international studies at the University of California, Irvine, tells NewsMax.
The size of the contractor force in Iraq has been difficult to pin down. In December, the U.S. Central Command estimated there were 100,000.
Top Five Contractors in Iraq
Kulak Construction Co.
Based in Turkey. Construction
workers for U.S. bases.
KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown
and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary)
Based in Houston. Logistics support.
Prime Projects International
Based in Dubai. Labor for Logistics support.
Based in New York. Translation services.
Gulf Catering Co.
Based in Saudi Arabia. Food services.
Source: U.S. Central Command and the
Los Angeles Times
Carter Andress, co-founder and CEO of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, a Defense Department contractor employing more than 1,000 people in Iraq, says that figure is far too low. He wrote Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist about his experience as a military-related contractor in the Middle East.
Andress tells NewsMax there are probably about 180,000 people working directly as contractors or subcontractors. He says they build bases, transport supplies, serve food, and even launder uniforms.
He estimates that no more than 20,000 of those are Americans, however. "When it gets down to the people we're talking about," he tells NewsMax, "there are less than 5,000 combatant contractors, people carrying guns for a living."
Andress' firm works with more than 60 subcontractor companies, and all are Iraqi-owned.
"We work with Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and some Christians," he says. "These people protect us through clan tribal networks. They provide information and contacts to be sure we continue to be successful. They're self-interested. They share in the same goals and the same risks. We are more integrated into Iraq than any military unit is.
"These Iraqi businesses range from construction companies and factories employing hundreds of workers to mom-and-pop shops run by a couple of entrepreneurs," he adds.
The Central Command is currently conducting an in-depth survey to learn more about the contractors in Iraq. So far, according to the Los Angeles Times, it has identified more than 43,000 workers from nations other than the United States and Iraq.
Brookings Institution scholar Peter Singer tells the Times: "These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything else that we went in without enough troops. This is not a coalition of the willing. It's the coalition of the billing."
Earlier this year, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense, charged that the war is essentially being outsourced. "We're going to have extensive hearings to find out exactly what's going on with contractors," he said. "They don’t have a clear mission and they're falling all over each other."
Andress dismisses such criticisms, citing a contractor presence in the Vietnam War that numbered some 200,000 workers.
What makes Iraq unique, however, appears to be the number of contractors put in harm's way.
"Iraq appears to be the first case where the U.S. government has used private contractors extensively for protecting persons and property in potentially hostile or hostile situations where host country security forces are absent or deficient," states a recent Congressional Research Service report.
"The kinds of jobs contractors did in Vietnam were much less integrated into military tasks, much less dangerous, and much less likely to inflict danger," Avant tells NewsMax. "They mostly worked on established American bases – which had been set up by U.S. troops – and under supervision of American forces. The privatization of logistics support in Iraq was much more complete from the very beginning of the war."
Andress maintains that claims of outsourcing the war are nothing more than "distortions and demagoguery."
Air Force Maj. Gen. Darryl Scott, the military officer overseeing contracting in Iraq, is himself guarded by private security contractors. The idea, he says, is to free up active-duty troops for action elsewhere.
"I'm a two-star general," he tells The Washington Post, "but I'm not the most important guy in the multinational force. If it's a lower-priority mission and it's within the capabilities of private security, this is an appropriate risk trade-off."
In addition to the 1,001 deaths, the Labor Department records show that contractors filed an additional 4,837 claims for injuries sustained in Iraq.
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