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Feb-09-2012 04:43printcomments

'Robust Diplomacy' in Iraq - 50% Increase in Contractors?

What is Really Going on with Americans in Iraq?

Military contractor truck that was severely damaged in an explosion in Iraq, probably a roadside bomb or IED.
Military contractor truck that was severely damaged in an explosion in Iraq, probably a roadside bomb or IED. Photo by Tim King

(SALEM) - I know many Americans are wondering what is really going on right now in Iraq with the formerly massive, U.S. military presence now evacuated. We know that a large American political force remains behind and that contractors... mercenaries, are providing security.

I wish I fully understood exactly what that means. I don't think it's too much of a mental exercise to imagine what it could mean, when considering the soiled reputations of contractors like Blackwater, now known as XE. It is a fact that U.S. military contractors have earned a terrible reputation for dirty work in the war theaters.

When Marines and soldiers from the United States screw up, the hammer comes down with few exceptions, that is if they are caught. When contractors commit criminal acts, even murder, it is hard for anyone to bring a case against them. That is the way the U.S. laws are designed.

One absolute truth about the Iraq war is that the finances of two men benefited from it immensely; they are friends, they live in Dubai, and one, Dick Cheney of Haliburton, used to be second-in-command of this very country. The other, Erik Prince of Blackwater / XE, continues to run a mercenary program that is the ultimate profiteer of war.

The military contracting firms of both men draw heavily on taxpayers, and quite obviously are designed to skirt public scrutiny and accountability.

Contractors as Pawns?

Scott Helventson - Blue Star Chronicles

While many contractors die in anonymity, one distinct exception would be the deaths of four contractors from Blackwater whose loss became infamous in a terrible way. Two of the four killed in Fallujah had their bodies hung from a bridge. I had a conversation with the mother of Scott Helventson, one of the four individuals.

Katy Helvenston-Wettengel's son Scott Helventson, was at one point in his life, the youngest sailor to ever become a U.S. Navy SEAL. He was a stellar athlete and a highly accomplished individual. He even worked as a personal trainer with Dimi Moore for the movie G.I. Jane, however after leaving the Navy he hit that reality zone of life where bills must be paid, and the choice he made, to go to Iraq as a hired security contractor for Blackwater, would have been a lucrative job if he had survived more than a single day- his total time in Iraq, alive at least.

Katy believes Scott and three other Blackwater security men; all extremely experienced military special forces veterans, were sent to their deaths in Fallujah on their first mission in Iraq in order to give the U.S. a reason to escalate violence in this particular Iraqi city. Their brutal deaths achieved that goal, and soon the Marines were in Fallujah to amplify the effort to defeat the resistance.

Scott and his team drove to a point where militants and video photographers were basically lining the street, waiting for them. Katy says they desecrated the American's remains, and that Scott and the other three deserved no such fate. She believes very simply, that her son and the others from Blackwater, were sent straight to their death.

PBS photo depicts the terrible end of Scott
Helventson in Fallujah. The other men ambushed
that day are Wesley Batalona, Jerry Zovko and
Michael Teague

In two cases, members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne fired on civilian protestors, multiple people were killed, in one case they were protesting the Army's use of their school, and their children's being denied their educations. Prior to these events, there was no violence conducted toward U.S. forces.

Before it ended, insurgents from all over went to Fallujah to take part in the fighting against U.S. Marines who suffered many casualties. The darkest part of that story is the rate of birth defects now in Fallujah, and the fact that the parents and kids are all contaminated with enriched uranium- meaning the U.S. covertly deployed a nuclear device in Fallujah without ever revealing it to the public. This is detailed in the recent article, Birth Defects Reveal Weapons-Grade Enriched Uranium Used in Fallujah, Iraq

I'm continually learning more and more about this war and what did and did not take place. I also have unshakable memories of having to watch hooded and bound Iraqi detainees receive abuse during a bizarre flight on an Army helicopter out of the Marine base at Fallujah that lasted for hours. I was ultimately taken away by U.S. intelligence forces and forced to erase my tape. I had recorded things that might have changed the course of the war. In the world of U.S. Army intelligence, you allow a journalist to record abuse and then force them to erase the evidence, what a system. (see: A Disturbing Night in Iraq: Witnessing the Abuse of 'Insurgent' Detainees)

Saddam's Meat Grinder & Other Lies

Life became all the more interesting last week when it was revealed through critical research, that former U.S. President George W. Bush lied to the public at least 945 times in his run up to the Iraq war. It all makes sense as I consider the story I was told in Baghdad by two members of the U.S. Army; that I was standing "just out of sight" of Saddam Hussein's human meat grinder one very hot day in Baghdad.

Later, I learned that like the Kuwait baby story from 1990, this too was total fiction; the product of a PR and media campaign. I'm not sure if it qualified as one of the 945 lies or if it might be 946. There was never a human meat grinder, there never was, one did not exist, but the tory sure horrified people. I have written about this at length and never found anyone who could dispute this unfounded story that once again, was propaganda to fuel a war against Iraq.

It illustrates the importance of reporting, and the fact that American reporters and their agencies have massively failed in this regard. That is a real let down for the American public, but mostly for the people who have died as a result of American (and Kuwaiti) propaganda. (The Insanity of Saddam Hussein's Human Meat Grinder)

"A robust police training program"

Iraqi police recruiting poster. photo by Tim King

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas R. Nides, held a teleconference with reporters yesterday about the U.S. Mission in Iraq. Remaining vague in many ways, Nides answered questions without revealing... much.

Acknowledging that, "... the military is now gone," Nides described what he believes is a "robust diplomatic" presence.

"We have stood up a robust police-training program, which is doing a terrific job working with the local police in training and developing a program, which I think will pay enormous dividends..."

I have one friend who went to Iraq to train senior Iraqi police during the early years of the war, many of whom had worked as high level law enforcement officials under Saddam Hussein in Iraq's elite Republican Guard.

While this Oregon police chief, Rick Lewis, believed the training over a several-month period was successful, the day he headed back to the United States one of his students wore a suicide bomb under his uniform and detonated himself in the presence of several other student / officers.

Many fled the area of the blast and once they entered another area as a group, a second officer, also wearing a suicide vest, blew himself up along with many of the newly graduated officers who Rick trained. A large number of people died that day and the killers were two of Rick's own students.

Police work in Iraq means one officer drives, and one mans the rear-mounted
machine gun. photo from Al Dujail, Iraq by Tim King

I spent time around Iraqi police while covering the war in 2008 and it wasn't a comfortable environment because Americans had little or no trust in Iraq's law enforcement community. The reality is too many years of death, corruption and confusion. Now the country is dealing with an internal civil war between the Sunni and Shi'ite populations which were sharply divided during the U.S. occupation. Police here have an extremely dangerous life.

Nides revealed that the cost of the police training, while cut in half, is a remarkable $500 million.

"We were going to basically have a glide path, which was we would do – like on police training, our original police training program had us this year – our original plan was to do a billion dollar police training, and we started the plan – the training with a half a billion dollar program, because we want to see how these programs work."

I don't know exactly how much of that budget is being paid to contractors for police training, but I suspect the percentage is high. After all of the years and pain and suffering from both sides of this conflict, it seems hard to believe Nides' suggestion that the U.S. training of Iraqi police in a post-military environment is going extremely well, it seems especially hard to believe when considering the track record.

So what then can we safely believe?

Far More Contractors

Thomas R. Nides

I was not one of the reporters participating in this teleconference, however those who did call in asked Nides several prodding questions about the ongoing role of security contractors.

Nides talked about the increasing use of local people to fill essential roles.

"This is what the Iraqis want, and quite frankly, that’s what we want because it’s cheaper, it’s more important to be part of the community. And so first and foremost, our goal has always been to, over this year, is to shift more and more of our purchasing, and quite frankly, just our whole operations more to local – locally hired individuals."

However it seems unlikely that the unemployed Iraqis will be given the duties of providing security for U.S. politicians. The Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources next attributed the large numbers of contractors in Iraq to a need for food...

"There’s been a lot of press written about how many contractors we had. Much of that is security, but its food service, right? If I can get food purchasing – more food purchasing done in Iraq and not have to bring it in, that will dramatically decrease our dependency on contractors to do food service. And that goes through a lot of the service that we are providing now."

KBR employees on the food line in Kabul, Afghanistan's Camp
Phoenix. photo by Tim King

For what it is worth, in the old days, i.e. 'pre-Bush', the American military cooked its own food. Some were professional cooks and others filled in for 'chow hall duty' and the system worked as well. In the current wars, the food is cooked and served by employees of the Haliburton subsidiary, KBR. They are paid well, in many cases far more than servicemembers. A large number of these KBR employees serving Americans their meals are from foreign countries in Europe and Asia. Those who are from the U.S. hail mostly from southern U.S. states. By the sound of things, KBR is still fixing food for Americans in Iraq.

Discussing the military side of the civilian contractor issue more squarely, Nides said Americans "will also look aggressively on perimeter security and how we manage that". But then Nide simply spilled the beans, and spelled out what most suspect:

"...the only thing I worry about – the only thing I worry about is the security of our people. Okay? We have a diplomatic mission. We owe it to make sure that we fulfill the diplomatic mission that we set out to do when we made this transition. But the most important thing to do is to make sure that we are making sure that we have – our people are secure. And so I – as much as I would love to reduce – continue to reduce the numbers of people and the cost, I will not sacrifice the security of our people."

He didn't place a number on it, but that statement seems to clearly indicate that there are large numbers of U.S. mercenaries in Iraq and if they are moving about in convoys, transporting people and equipment, etc., then problems stemming from their status, as people essentially able to kill and get away with it, will be large.

No doubt that the question of the day centers around a rumor in Baghdad that the United States is increasing the number of contractors in Iraq by 50%.

Nides was asked whether he is simply getting rid of the expensive contractors and replacing them with local ones, which would save money but not lead to a net reduction in contractors.

Nides replied, "Oh, well that – yeah. Listen, we’re not there to make – I mean, listen. We will go – we’ll go contractor by contractor, we’ll try to figure out over time what goods we can purchase locally in which we will not rely upon goods that are coming in over the border."

Continuing his avoidance of answering questions directly, Nides only confirmed that the contractors can be counted by the thousands.

"But listen, I think the reality is, as I said at the onset, my hope is that as we go through this next year, I’ll be having conversations which you’ll say, listen, we had X thousands of contractors. We have Y now because we are procuring more of our goods in Iraq, or we have concluded that we – the footprint that we currently have, we can have a smaller footprint. We don’t need as big a footprint. So consequently, we don’t need as many, quote, “static guards.” I mean, that’s what every good operation does. We should be – you – people should be pushing us all the time to continue to evaluate over the next couple years, which we will be doing."

Interview source: Deputy Secretary of State Nides on Size of U.S. Mission Iraq - U.S. State Dept.


Tim King in 2007, covering the Afghanistan War

Tim King: Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 102 writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address:

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Anonymous February 9, 2012 8:35 am (Pacific time)

Does the writer have an accounting of how many military personnel have been convicted, not charged, of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan? From what I've observed is that a relatively few have been charged out of literally millions who have served (repeatedly) since 2003, but not very many convicted. As far as private contractors, the majority are involved in infra-structure, and relatively few in security in comparison. I would think that the Iraq government would not be a place security contractors would feel above the law at this time. Convictions are rare, charges are many, but that is pretty normal coming from those attempting to provide a false impression from my experience. By the way we have had private contractors going back to General George Washington. Are military could not exist without them it appears.

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