Iraq: Mercenaries increasingly targeted by the resistance


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

May 19, 2007

Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record

WASHINGTON, May 18 ‹ Casualties among private contractors in Iraq have soared to
record levels this year, setting a pace that seems certain to turn 2007 into the
bloodiest year yet for the civilians who work alongside the American military in
the war zone, according to new government numbers.

At least 146 contract workers were killed in Iraq in the first three months of 
the year, by far the highest number for any quarter since the war began in March
2003, according to the Labor Department, which processes death and injury claims
for those working as United States government contractors in Iraq.

That brings the total number of contractors killed in Iraq to at least 917, 
along with more than 12,000 wounded in battle or injured on the job, according 
to government figures and dozens of interviews.

The numbers, which have not been previously reported, disclose the extent to 
which contractors ‹ Americans, Iraqis and workers from more than three dozen 
other countries ‹ are largely hidden casualties of the war, and now are facing 
increased risks alongside American soldiers and marines as President Bush¹s plan
to increase troop levels in Baghdad takes hold.

As troops patrol more aggressively in and around the capital, both soldiers and 
the contractors who support them, often at small outposts, are at greater peril.
The contractor deaths earlier this year, for example, came closer to the number 
of American military deaths during the same period ‹ 244 ‹ than during any other
quarter since the war began, according to official figures.

³The insurgents are going after the softest targets, and the contractors are 
softer targets than the military,² said Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant 
secretary of defense for manpower during the Reagan administration. ³The U.S. is
being more aggressive over there, and these contractor deaths go right along 
with it.²

Truck drivers and translators account for a significant share of the casualties,
but the recent death toll includes others who make up what amounts to a private 

Among them were four American security guards who died in a helicopter crash in 
January, 28 Turkish construction workers whose plane crashed north of Baghdad 
the same month, a Massachusetts man who was blown up as he dismantled munitions 
for an American company in March and a Georgia woman killed in a missile attack 
in March while working as a coordinator for KBR, the contracting company.

Donald E. Tolfree Jr., a trucker from Michigan, was fatally shot in the cab of 
his vehicle while returning to Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, in early 
February. His daughter, Kristen Martin, 23, said Army officials told her he was 
shot by an American military guard confused about her father¹s assignment. The 
Army confirms the death is under investigation as a possible friendly-fire 

Ms. Martin said she waited three weeks for her father¹s body to be returned 
home, and expressed resentment that dead contractors were treated differently 
from soldiers who fall in battle.

³If anything happens to the military people, you hear about it right away,² she 
said in a telephone interview. ³Flags get lowered, they get their respect. You 
don¹t hear anything about the contractors.²

Military officials in Washington and Baghdad said that no Pentagon office 
tracked contractor casualties and that they had no way to confirm or explain the
sharp rise in deaths this year.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the top spokesman for the American military in
Iraq, declined through an aide to address the matter. ³Contractors are out of 
our lane, and we don¹t comment on them,² said the aide, Lt. Matthew Breedlove.

Companies that have lost workers in Iraq were generally unresponsive to 
questions about the numbers of deaths and the circumstances that led to 
casualties. None acknowledged that they had seen an increase this year.

But a spokesman for American International Group, the insurance company that 
covers about 80 percent of the contractor work force in Iraq, said it had seen a
sharp increase in death and injury claims in recent months. The Labor Department
records show that in addition to the 146 dead in the first three months this 
year, another 3,430 contractors filed claims for wounds or injuries suffered in 
Iraq, also a quarterly record. The number of casualties, though, may be much 
higher because the government¹s statistical database is not complete.

The Labor numbers were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act 
request from The New York Times. Other figures came from a variety of government
agencies, private contractors and insurers handling casualty claims.

American military casualties in Iraq have mounted to almost 3,400 dead. The new 
contractor statistics suggest that for every four American soldiers or marines 
who die in Iraq, a contractor is killed.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who pushed for the buildup of 
military forces in Iraq, said the contractor casualties were a symptom of a 
larger failure to send enough troops earlier to provide security throughout 

³We¹re now putting these people in danger that I never thought they¹d be under 
because we cannot secure the country,² he said.

Other lawmakers also expressed concern about the numbers. Representative John P.
Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is chairman of the defense subcommittee of
the House Appropriations Committee, said that he was shocked at the extent of 
casualties among contractors and that he planned to hold hearings this fall on 
the use of private workers in Iraq.

Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, has introduced legislation 
to force the government to release detailed records on the use of contractors in
Iraq and the names and job descriptions of all those killed and injured, 
information that is virtually impossible to get right now. The military releases
names and biographical information about its wartime casualties, but businesses 
are not required to provide such information, and the Labor Department refuses 
to do so, citing privacy laws.

³By keeping the knowledge of this force hidden, it changes one¹s perception and 
one¹s evaluation of the war,² Ms. Schakowsky said. ³There are almost a thousand 
dead and a large number of injuries. I think it masks the fact that we are 
privatizing the military in this country.²

Contract workers say that as the tempo of military operations has increased in 
recent months, so have the attacks on contractors. Convoys of trucks operated by
companies are often not as well armored or protected as military units, they 

A top security industry official said he was told recently by American military 
and contracting officials that 50 to 60 percent of all truck convoys in Iraq 
were coming under attack. Previously, he said, only about 10 percent had been 

³There is a definite spike in convoy attacks,² said the official, who would 
speak only on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential. 
Gordon Dreher, 48, who drove a fuel truck supplying American troops in Iraq, 
said he and other drivers faced almost constant attacks from insurgents.

³I¹ve been shot at, had my truck blown out from under me, had an I.E.D. hit 
about six feet away from me, and lost part of my hearing,² he said, referring to
an improvised explosive device. ³I¹m used to getting shot at now, having tracer 
rounds hit off my truck. I got ambushed twice on one convoy run.²

Mr. Dreher broke his back in January from driving fast on rough roads, and is 
back home in Brick, N.J., awaiting surgery. ³When they do a surge, they need 
more fuel for choppers and tanks,² he said. ³My buddies who are still there tell
me that they have been getting spanked pretty good lately.²

Mark Griffin, a 53-year-old truck driver from Georgia who left Iraq last 
November, said even then attacks were accelerating. ³It got progressively worse 
pretty much every month I was there.²

He worked for KBR driving trucks in Anbar Province to supply Marine bases with 
ammunition, water and other essentials. He said that by late 2006 truck drivers 
and their Marine convoy escorts were finding 20 to 30 roadside bombs on each 
convoy trip through Anbar, the restive Sunni heartland. ³The number of I.E.D.¹s 
got worse, and the size and damage got worse, progressively, over time,² he 

Labor Department statistics show that deaths and injuries among contractors have
risen during times of heightened American military activity. For example, the 
number of contractors killed from January through March tops the previous 
quarterly record of 112 killed at the end of 2004, during the American military 
offensive in Falluja and related operations nearby.

The worsening casualty trends appear to be continuing into the second quarter of
this year, as insurgents launch a wave of mortar and rocket attacks on Baghdad¹s
Green Zone, the heavily fortified government center. Earlier this month, for 
example, two Indians, a Filipino and a Nepalese working for the American Embassy
in Baghdad were killed by rocket fire in the Green Zone.

Nearly 300 companies from the United States and around the world supply workers 
who are a shadow force in Iraq almost as large as the uniformed military. About 
126,000 men and women working for contractors serve alongside about 150,000 
American troops, the Pentagon has reported. Never before has the United States 
gone to war with so many civilians on the battlefield doing jobs ‹ armed guards,
military trainers, translators, interrogators, cooks and maintenance workers ‹ 
once done only by those in uniform.

In the Persian Gulf war of 1991, for example, only 9,200 contractors ‹ mostly 
operating advanced weapons systems ‹ served alongside 540,000 military 
personnel. But at the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager 
to seize on the so-called peace dividend and drastically scale back the standing
Army. The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy to unprecedented
levels after the invasion of Iraq.

Many contractors in the battle zone say they lack the basic security measures 
afforded uniformed troops and receive benefits that not only differ from those 
provided to troops, but also vary by employer. Weekly pay ranges from $60 for 
Iraqi translators and laborers to $1,800 for truck drivers to as much as $6,000 
for private security guards employed by companies like Blackwater. Medical and 
insurance benefits also vary widely, from excellent to minimal.

Conditions in Iraq are harsh, and many civilians who arrive there, drawn by 
patriotism, a sense of adventure or the lure of money, are overwhelmed by the 
environment. If they raise questions about the 12-hour workdays, the lack of 
armor plating on trucks or the periodic shelling of bases, supervisors often 
tell them to pack up and go home.

Cynthia I. Morgan, a Tennessee trucker who spent more than a year in Iraq as a 
convoy commander, said that the common answer from her bosses to such complaints
was, ³Aisle or window, chicken or pasta² ‹ meaning ³Get on the next plane out of

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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