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2003-10-10

The Iraqi Gold Rush: "The Privatization of U.S. Foreign Policy"

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As the U.S. Congress takes its first step toward approving the $87 billion President Bush has requested for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we take a look at the corporations poised to make a killing as private contractors flood into Baghdad. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript The US Congress took the first step yesterday toward approving the $87 billion President George W Bush has requested for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 47-14 to approve nearly all of the White House request. The bill will go before the full house next week.

As the debate over the bill continues, attention is increasingly focused not just on the amount of money but also on who will get it. The Washington Post yesterday reported that of the $4 billion a month already being spent in Iraq, as much as a third is going to the private contractors who have flooded into the country. This flow of money will increase greatly if Congress approves Bush’s $87 billion request.

  • Deborah Avant, Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University and an expert on private military companies.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Deborah Avant, professor of International Affairs at George Washington University and an expert on military private companies. Welcome to democracy now!.

DEBORAH AVANT: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you can talk about — well, the front page of the 'Washington Post' talked about the Gold Rush, the — those that are racing off to Iraq to —well, to dip into some of this $87 billion. Who are they?

DEBORAH AVANT: Well, there’s a whole variety of different companies. I should say they are partly pushing into Iraq, but they’re rushing to Iraq, because the U.S. Government is really encouraging them. Particularly in the security sector, of course, the post-war reconstruction effort in Iraq has not gone as smoothly as we’d wanted. A lot of these companies are seen as a mechanism for decreasing the pressure on U.S. troops and getting the security situation in hand more quickly. So there’s money to be made, but there is also a lot of demand from the U.S. government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In effect, then, what’s happened in this war that is radically different, let’s say, from the Vietnam war, is that in the Vietnam war, a lot of these logistics and security situations were being handled by the military itself.

So, in effect, you’re talking about now maybe another 20,000 people, Americans that are in Kuwait, in Iraq in those support operations?

DEBORAH AVANT: Yeah. Actually, I mean, it’s interesting that you bring up the comparison with Vietnam. People have suggested that the ratio of contractors to active duty personnel in Iraq is something like one to ten, although we don’t really know. But that’s an estimate. Studies of the Vietnam war have shown at some point the ratio was one to six, so there were even more contractors serving in Vietnam. What’s different from — in today’s situation is that a lot of these contractors are not American companies, but are multinational companies. And the kinds of jobs they’re doing are closer to what we think of active duty military personnel to be doing — more of them are carrying arms and operating high-tech weapons systems and things like that that are sort of closer to the tip of the spear, as we talk about the movement towards sort of — closer to the use of violence.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the issue of direct profiteering? I think you mentioned in the article — in — it’s mentioned in the Washington Post article that the cost of training Iraqi police officers is about $240,000 each? That’s about ten years worth of Ivy League education. What kind of training that it costs so much?

DEBORAH AVANT: It is true — partly because the demand is so great in Iraq that contractors are rushing to fill these slots. Part of what they’re doing in rushing to fill the slots is offering people a lot of money to go to Iraq. I have heard some people who work in the sector suggest they were offered twice their salary to move from Colombia to Iraq. And of course — Colombia is hardly a picnic area itself.

So, the dangers and, you know, the great demand for the contractors is actually driving the cost up, as you would imagine in any market situation. Of course, if you are talking about the deployment of U.S. Forces, we don’t have those kinds of market pressures to deal with. We simply, you know, move — we move the division from here to there. When you talk about the contractors, you have to encourage these people to go — which one of the ways you encourage them is with greater salaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about some of the companies. Let’s name names.. like DynCorp... DEBORAH AVANT: Right. DynCorp Is doing the training of the Iraqi police force and also setting up the justice/prison structure in Iraq. One of the interesting things in Iraq is that we’re actually training a variety of different forces. We’re of course training the Iraqi army, which is being done — well, it’s been headed by Vinnell corporation, but it’s been subcontracted out to a variety of different companies, including NPRI.

AMY GOODMAN: The Vinnell corporation which actually was one of the targets of an attack recently in Saudi Arabia, right, which has trained the Saudi National Guard, the private military force for the Saudi regime.

DEBORAH AVANT: Right. They have a long history in the Gulf region. NPRI trained the — a lot of the military in the Balkans, the Bosnian military, the Croatian military, the Macedonian military. SAIC, which also has experience in the Balkans is doing training. There’s a variety of companies working to train the Iraqi army. We also are training a private force to guard some of the private oil facilities in Iraq, and that is actually being done by a company, an international company, Erinys, that is a relatively new company. It has a lot of people that used to work in the British S.A.S., in South African military and variety of other international forces. So, that’s — so, there’s at least three different kinds of forces that we’re training in Iraq, all with different companies.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Kellogg Brown and Root. That’s a subsidiary of Vice President Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton.

DEBORAH AVANT: There’s a lot of logistics support. They have a contract for putting out oil fires.

AMY GOODMAN: And San Francisco-based Bechtel company.

DEBORAH AVANT: Bechtel is doing a lot of the reconstruction. Most of my work is focused on companies that do security tasks. Bechtel has hired companies like Controlled Risk and others to provide security while they do the reconstruction tasks. They are — their aim is really doing, you know, the building, not so much carrying the guns.

AMY GOODMAN: What is Custer Battles? An unusual name.

DEBORAH AVANT: Custer Battles is actually named after one of the company heads, last name is Custer. It is actually a smallish company that does — what they call risk mitigation, some of which includes, of course, security, and they’re providing security for the airport in Baghdad. But they are also-they are one of the companies that is getting a bit of a windfall from the increase in demand in that they’re growing quickly and doing a lot of different kinds of work in Baghdad. They’re trying to operate in this, you know, very difficult environment where it’s hard to get mail delivered and, you know, you can’t just UPS-in parts that you need for something. They’re doing a lot of that kind of work in addition to providing, you know, security, which is —you know, companies that provide security, patrolling kinds of things, frequently work in areas where there is decent law enforcement and they’re providing an extra measure of eyes and ears.

But in Iraq, of course, that’s not the case. So, these companies are finding themselves carrying weaponry more frequently and, you know, having to operate in a much more insecure environment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the use of any Iraqi companies or the Iraqi participation in the reconstruction of their own country?

DEBORAH AVANT: Yeah. They actually — there are a number of private Iraqi security companies that have cropped up. That’s in the last couple of months. If you look at the Coalitional Provisional Authority website, they actually have a list of companies. It’s not a complete list. I think it has something to do with the way the money is flowing, but it has a list of the companies that are getting directly paid by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and you will notice that many of those are Iraqi companies. Of course, there’s concerns about who the Iraqi companies are, and some people have suggested that the cronies of the Hussein regime have actually managed to find their way into connections with the CPA.

Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it is very difficult to vet people in Iraq because there simply aren’t the records. It’s hard to know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It’s difficult to know if you are hiring someone who has in the past committed human rights abuses or those kinds of things or whether this is somebody that would be a good security officer.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Debra Avant for joining us, Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, expert on private military companies.

It’s interesting to hear who is getting what and compare that to this — military troops hospitalized as a result of combat-related injuries will no longer with charged $8.10 a day for food, under a bill that was passed by the House unanimously yesterday.

Well, you are listening to Democracy Now!.

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