The following is a new entry in a series of letters from a participant in last year’s Meretz USA Israel seminar, currently doing development work in Iraq. We are posting the letters anonymously to prevent any negative consequences for the author.
A lot of the contractors here – read mercenaries – are rich, especially the Aussies, New Zealanders and South Africans. They come here, make good money over a year or so, then go back and live like kings. Two have sheep farms and one just lives in retirement and isolation until he can’t stand the lack of action and returns to the fray. They actually do dangerous work.
One group is leaving soon for a newly built camp on the Syrian border which is the main entry point for terrorists, in order to train locals on counter-insurgency techniques. They are in danger every minute. They do not even eat together, but grab their food and leave before an “incoming” can find them bunched in a group.
These guys do not appear to care what they eat so long as it has no nutrition. On their quiet days they are more aggressive than hungry shrews. One of my team went into the dining hall in the morning in shorts – against the rules – to pick up an orange and banana to eat in his room. He was almost attacked by one of the 300 orangutans who still yells at him when they see each other. Yet these same guys will get drunk carrying enough ordinance to stop a tank division – also against the rules, but “manly.”
If you talk to any security-type contractor, he (there are very few “shes”) will tell you a story of killed buddies. I overheard were two private security contractors talking in Erbil. One said he’d had enough and was leaving. His detail had to return from Erbil to Baghdad. While in Erbil he was sick and had to be hospitalized. His six buddies were killed on the trip back he was supposed to take. Because all died on the road and were incommunicado, nobody knew what had happened to him – or them – for almost a week. If one of them lives through an attack, the rule is they cannot tell their loved ones until the next of kin of the dead have been notified.
We all know about the 2,500 soldiers and 40,000 Iraqis killed. But nobody keeps statistics on contractors, though contractors will tell you they do informally and more have been killed than American soldiers. Given the vast number of security groups (137 as of the time of my last report), this guess makes sense – but does the situation?